“It’s hard to think of any tool, any instrument, any object in history with which so many developed so close a relationship so quickly as we have with our phones.”
Nancy Gibbs, Deputy Managing Editor, Time Magazine
What’s the first thing everyone picks up in the morning? What does nobody leave the house without? What is changing the way society communicates? The mobile phone. Mobile phone use is a continuing phenomenon in our society, changing the way we communicate, interact, and accomplish tasks. Among American adults, 64 percent now own a smartphone of some kind, up from 35 percent in the spring of 2011.
Cell phones first became available to the public in 1984, but it was by no means love at first sight. It wasn’t until 1995 that the cell phone began winning the hearts of the average person; since then, the mobile relationship has exploded into fatal attraction—or, in milder terms, blossomed into mobile infatuation.
Either way, it’s official: In 2016, we can’t function without our phones. We are, in effect, married to the mobile. Smartphones emerged as a mass-market product less than a decade ago, yet already 46 percent of American smartphone users are what could be called mobile-dependent, agreeing with the statement, “I can’t imagine my life without my smartphone.”
The mobile phone has truly become the closest companion to most of us. It’s taken first priority in our morning routines. A study from IDC Research found that four out of five smartphone users check their phones within the first fifteen minutes of waking up. For 80 percent, it’s the first thing they do in the morning. Among millennials, a whopping 90 percent use their smartphones first thing in the morning, often before they get out of bed, according to the Cisco Connected World Technology Report. Even before grabbing coffee, young people grab their phones.
As most of us choose not to set limits on our nighttime availability, those little bodies of hand-held technology wish us sweet dreams, too, reassuring us that they’ll be right there when we awake, Nearly three-quarters of people from the age of 18 to 44 sleep with their phones within reach, according to a 2012 Time/Qualcomm poll, while 75 percent of 25-to-29-year-olds take their phones to bed. Which side of the bed does your phone sleep on?
People are emotionally attached to their cell phones as well. Shari Walsh and her colleagues (Walsh, White, Cox, and Young, 2011) have surveyed teens and young adults on their phone use and attitudes. Not surprisingly, many consider their phones to be part of their self-concept. Identifying your cell phone as part of yourself predicts not just how frequently you use your phone, but also how involved you are with it. Mobile involvement is defined as keeping your phone nearby, thinking frequently about your phone, interrupting activities to respond to your phone, feeling distressed without your phone, and being unable to cut down on using your phone. Does this remind you of how people feel about their significant others?
Our mobile accompanies us throughout the day, ready to anticipate our every need and satisfy our every whim. It provides up-to-the minute news reports, entertainment, parenting tips, stock updates, and business advice. Much like a spouse, it knows where we are at all times, actually observing and learning our interests and passions. Gaining insight into individual preferences allows smartphones to provide better experiences, with content that’s relevant to our interests, needs, and even location.
Like an indulgent spouse, mobile also takes us shopping and brings us gifts. As smartphones and tablets have become commonplace devices for online shopping and buying, spending has increased. In 2013, 79.4 million US consumers made online purchases using mobile devices, amounting to 51 percent of all digital buyers. By 2017, a projected 77.1 percent of US digital buyers will use a mobile device to make at least one online purchase.
Smartphones help us navigate all kinds of important life events, just as a devoted spouse does, from health conditions to new jobs. Roughly 62 percent of smartphone owners have used their phones to access information about a health condition in the past year—close to the percentage who say they’ve used their smartphones for online banking.
Yet no matter how fulfilling a relationship may be, people still need external social interactions, so naturally mobile offers a plethora of social outlets. According to the Adobe 2013 Mobile Consumer Survey, accessing social media is the number-one mobile activity today: “People still predominantly use their mobile devices to gain information, including social. Of those surveyed, 71 percent reported using their mobile device to access social media.” We’re checking our social networks morning, noon, and night.
Mobile phones have become our touchstones—or rather, our touchscreens. We reach for them first thing in the morning and lay them beside us last thing at night. They provide us with intellectually stimulating content, anticipate our needs, acquiesce to our shopping urges, and offer us satisfying social outlets. Yes, sometimes they get lost or confused, interrupt us, and demand recharging … but once you’ve chosen your better half, it’s a union for better and for worse. With this Mobile, I Thee Web.