Smartphone addiction is NOT taking over our lives
Modern work and presenteeism are taking over our lives - smartphones are merely just the whip.
There is no doubt that smartphones are great at what they do - although they are not necessarily good examples of what a good phone should be like.
If you want to carry a phone, pager, word processor, web browser, email inbox, photo album, variety of social networking tools, music player, sat-nav, video player, book library and camera in one single gadget, coupled with a plethora of other software applications and reference databases, then a smartphone is clearly ideal for you.
Their virtues have been opined by others elsewhere - including by a fellow New Optimist somewhere on this site.
A recent survey by Ofcom has suggested that Smartphone-addiction is widespread among adults as well as younger people.
Addiction, such a powerful word as it is, is rarely ever used in a good or positive context. So it is all too easy to bemoan people for constantly using their smartphones and labelling such use as a troublesome behaviour or addiction.
I'm interested in the popular idea some have that "users" (another addiction term) have become fixated with and dependent on using such gadgets.
Are we all doomed to a future of slavishly checking our phones every minute to see if we're popular or if people are following us on Twitter? I don't think so, but some psychologists think that social networking encourages a culture of infantalization and attention-seeking from users. Perhaps so, but that is a debate for another blog.
The high level of gadget use found by Ofcom could either be a measure of our "addiction" or perhaps a more realistic reflection of how useful and ubiquitous phones have become, coupled with our more sophisticated requirements and expectations from personal devices.
No doubt that as users we have become more confident and sophisticated with gadgets by first texting, then networking, and now mostly through micro-blogging, our abilities have fuelled our desire for gadgets that do more. Evidence for this could be found in the Ofcom statistic that 18% of smartphone users will use their device in a theatre or hospital, compared with a mere 10% ordinary mobile phone users.
Again, is it the phone capabilities or our requirements driving the increased (antisocial) use. Ok, so nothing I have written in these paragraphs so far is either groundbreaking or revelatory, but we need to be critical of the obvious suggestion that we are addicts merely based on frequency of use. Let's explore another idea...
The Ofcom survey has claimed a number of interesting findings about smartphone use - Apple's iPhones are still the most popular gadgets for grown up users, while the Blackberry retains it's majority in the youth market.
As a university lecturer who regularly faces theatres full of youths, my experience confirms that Blackberry has the edge in this demographic.
We will come back to this point later, but it's partly a case of horses for courses: top youth activities are unsurprisingly based around social networking, music, and games, with the top adult uses being more sober; emails, web-browsing and social networking.
Almost 12 million UK adults are smartphone users, which represents 27% of the British adult population.
Smartphones are not really the problem - if there is a problem at all it is the on-demand and on-call culture where we expect everything and everyone to be connected.
Obviously this has been partially facilitated by the emergence of mobile phones as well as greater all-round connectivity, but we should be critical of the cultural attitude rather than the technology. In modern work and professions, staff are expected to be contactable and available at short notice.
They in turn, in the climate of litigation and customer-feedback require their managers to be readily contactable too. Companies have policies on turnaround times and response deadlines to email enquiries and calls.
Staff are routinely provided with phones and laptops in order to facilitate this readiness of working culture.
Despite more and more workers in the UK doing jobs that require them to be on the road or away from their HQ for much of the time, fewer workers than ever before can be classed as "remote" or "isolated" because they are in touch via technology.
This movement has been ongoing since the 1980s - remember the BT Business campaign "Work smarter not harder"?
There is no doubt that if technology and smartphones are guilty of one thing it is that they have allowed the erosion of the work-life barrier.
Workers in the UK work more unpaid overtime than any other EU country - and in many professions it is expected that staff will take work home and not seek recompense.
It has become a new basic term of the conditions of professional working, and has been accepted without any serious questioning of the possible demerits. Smartphones have helped facilitate this imbalance.
The irony is that when technology allows movement in the other direction, for the private life of workers to encroach on their workplace - via Facebook, Twitter or personal emails in the workplace - organisations don't seem to keep their end of the bargain and often try to stymie it.
Having been lecturing at universities for several years, to both undergraduate and postgraduate students, to professionals and lay people, I have found one true thing of people and their phones - the tide of use and temptation to check cannot be stopped.
But why should it be while the cultural attitude is to be "permanently present".
Having tried everything I could to stop phone use in my lecturers over the years - from confiscation, stern grumpiness, faux psychopathic anger, the moral high ground, public ridicule of the offender, humour, through to bribery and corruption, I have now decided not to bother stopping the use of phones. Why should I - they are ubiquitous and essential.
How many of us (as grown ups) go into meetings, talks, or theatre performances and use our phones when WE know we should not? Perhaps it is because we each feel we are special, different and that the rules do not apply to us.
So as a natural experiment, for the next academic year I am going to "allow" students to use their smartphones in my lectures - and the back three rows only will be reserved for Tweeters and Facebookers.
I figure that those who don't wish to engage in phone-use during my lectures will want to gravitate to the front, and those on the "Tweet rows" will effectively police themselves.
It's what happens among commuters in "silent carriages" on trains when people flout the rules.
By creating a smartphone ghetto in the lecture theatre we may be able to measure if students' performances on exams and coursework show any association with their lecture-time phone use or ability to resist it.
An interesting public health trend emerges from the Ofcom survey - almost half of teenagers who owned smartphones (47%) admitted to regularly using then in the bathroom. Something we all may need to consider before thinking of confiscating a phone from a student in a lecture!
A veritable, portable germ-bag. A secondary bonus of all this increased phone activity is that both younger and older users are generally watching less TV as they spend more time getting to know their phones.
The inclusion of apple's "iBooks" on the iPhone is certainly a blessing for me as an academic who constantly struggles to get students to read more - and if increased reading is a side effect of smartphone ownership then who can really complain about that?