News flash: smartphone users obsessively check their devices

In a study that could be described as confirming the bleedin’ obvious, Finnish researchers have found that many smartphone users obsessively check their devices for e-mails, social media and news. Really? Seriously? I could have texted that conclusion over to Finland long ago and saved them a lot of time and tax dollars.

Who hasn’t endured the supremely rude experience of chatting happily with a friend whose phone chimes suddenly to life, requiring said friend to instantly interrupt the conversation in mid-sentence because she has to check out the latest cute kitty YouTube video – while you stand there waiting like an idiot with your finger up your nose? Who hasn’t sat, dismayed and annoyed, at the dining room table watching a young relative madly texting from his lap during a family dinner? Who hasn’t been distracted by glowing phone screens popping up in a darkened movie theatre while users check Facebook throughout the film? Can these people not turn their phones off even for two short hours?

Obsessive? I’d say so.

The repetitive and obsessive checking of smartphones for news, e-mail, contacts and social apps is dubbed “checking habits” by the researchers who worked on this study.

Researchers were surprised to observe users engaging in checking behaviours throughout their waking hours, and a sizable proportion of smartphone use consists solely of checking. They found a typical checking lasts less than 30 seconds and involves opening the screen lock and accessing a single application. On average, smartphone users will check their phones every 10 minutes, dozens of times a day.

Researchers analyzed the habits of smartphone users in the United States and Finland, and found that checking does not occur randomly, but is triggered by certain contexts such as when commuting or while bored.

Smartphone users themselves did not regard repetitive and obsessive use of their devices as an addiction, but did describe it in terms of “overuse” and as “an annoyance”, the researchers said.

And in an unrelated study of young American mothers commissioned by Parenting Group (publisher of Parenting, Babytalk,, and BlogH) reported recently in Advertising Age, it seems that, across the board, younger moms are passing technology along to their kids at an early age – in fact, 25% of toddlers have used a smartphone.

“But the sweet spots for majority-usage looks like this: mobile phone, age 11; smartphones, age 16; laptop/PC, age 4; digital camera, age 5.”

Overall, the study reported by Ad Age found that nearly three-quarters of these mothers with internet access can’t go a day without it. One in four report letting their kids use a mobile phone by age 2.

“We wonder when the ability to hit the home button, swipe to unlock and find an app will become a recognized developmental milestone — maybe somewhere between walking and multi-word sentences.”

Dr. Antti Oulasvirta, of the Helsinki Institute for Information Technology, said in an Aalto University news release about their smartphone research project.

“What concerns us here is that if your habitual response to, say, boredom, is that you pick up the phone to find interesting stimuli, you will be systematically distracted from the more important things happening around you.

“Habits are automatically triggered behaviors and compromise the more conscious control that some situations require. Studies are already starting to associate smartphone use to dire consequences like driving accidents and poor work-life balance.

“Unfortunately, as decades of work in psychology shows, habits are not easy to change.”

The authors also said the habit-forming nature of the devices adds to their pervasiveness.

SOURCE: Aalto University news release, July 25, 2011

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3 thoughts on “News flash: smartphone users obsessively check their devices

  1. Pingback: Web Tech News

  2. It’s not these ‘checking habits’ during a long commute that I mind (I’d rather be sitting beside somebody on the train who’s quietly texting than somebody talking LOUDLY on a !#@$#%!! cellphone) but when people pull out their phones in the middle of a conversation with other real live human beings, well, that’s just plain rude. Nobody is THAT important that you HAVE to check your messages every 10 minutes.

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