Are you a Smartphoniac?
Among everybody from our leaders to our teenagers, no habit is spreading faster than being connected 24/7 via a smart phone.
Its penetration in the U.S. is estimated at 18%, and it seems that everywhere you turn, people are using their smart phones in new ways and in new places. Samsung recently estimated that it expects 500 million global smart-phone users by 2012. Actual phone calls are becoming extinct compared with handheld texts and email messages — whoever thought people would prefer typing to talking? But the evidence appears to say they do.
This has also given rise to a group of people — the top 10% of smart-phone users — who just can’t stop. They are the smartphoniacs, the true addicts of the information age.
Here are five tell-tale traits of Smartphoniacs:
Do they take their smart phones with them when they get up from the table to go to the restroom — and do they take an awful lot of trips there?
Do you receive messages from them while you know they are driving (increasingly being banned in state after state), or at midnight on Saturday night?
Do they come up with excuses in the middle of a conversation to pull out their smart phone — something like “let me jot something you said down so I don’t forget it,” and then sneak a look at all their messages?
Are they suffering from sprained or elongated thumbs?
Do they openly use their smart phones in inappropriate places, such as first dates, at Rosh Hashanah or Christmas dinner, in hospital delivery rooms, or on job interviews?
If your “friend” fits four out of five of these, then he or she is a Smartphoniac. If he fits only two or three of them, he is just another typical user who stays connected on the street, in meetings and at the movies.
As these devices pop up everywhere, there has been a recent spate of articles about smart-phone “manners” — as if using your phone when your boss, or your mother, is talking to you is just a matter of poor training on their part. I don’t think your boss or your mom ever said “go ahead, text while I’m talking to you.” So it’s just not a matter of manners. It’s much more the result of a deeper disconnect anxiety, an irrepressible fear that you will miss something if you put it away.
I once worked with a candidate for Senate who emailed me from the podium during a debate. Many CEOs communicate today primarily from their smart phones. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama used them on the campaign trail, while John McCain didn’t.
The famed red phone to call the Russian premier in the event of a national security emergency could now be replaced by a red smart phone. Imagine if the world’s top leaders were all connected by smart phones and they communicated directly and frequently about issues of mutual concern. It would revolutionize diplomacy.
But Smartphoniacs are an eclectic mix of the successful and powerful, busy professionals, teenagers and college students. All of them communicate incessantly. In Korea, more than three in 10 youths who carry mobile phones are said to be addicted. In Germany, there are an estimated 380,000 texting addicts — folks who withdraw from the very family and friends their machines were supposed to connect them to. While there hasn’t been a formal study of Smartphoniacs in America (although there is one underway at the University of Florida), we know that between the second quarter of 2007 and the second quarter of 2008, the North American smart-phone market grew 78.7%. About 139.3 million smart phones were sold world-wide last year, and half of U.S. smart-phone users report using their devices more today than they did just three months ago.
Last month, the National Texting Championship award and its $50,000 grand prize went to a 15-year-old who texts 500 times a day. A recent poll found that 42% of teens can text with their eyes closed. And based on other studies on the intensity of smart-phone use, we can guess that Smartphoniacs skew male, affluent and well-educated. Not since the television has any invention changed the lifestyle habits of Americans more than the smart phone. The recent movie “Seven Pounds” detailed the guilt of an executive who caused a fatal car crash because he emailed while driving.
To be sure, there are forces calling for temperance. Some people refuse to date people who use smart phones. Many parents just say no. Legislators are getting into the act to protect public safety. But for the most part, Americans of every age and stage are wrapping themselves in apps, clicks and instantaneous communication as part of a social network. And some small but significant percentage of this group is going to take a one-way slide to the bottom, where the compulsion to use their smart phones is so strong that they can only hope their batteries last long enough to text a cry for help.
We’re not far away from Smartphoniacs Anonymous or Mothers Against Smart Phones. We’ve been through this with TV, the Internet and videogames. In the end it all works out and we successfully integrate them into our lives, even though we are never again the same. At least with smart phones, with all their usage counters, we will be able to tell who has recovered from the binge.