We use our smartphones twice as much as we think we do

iphone 6
CC BY-SA 2.0 JohnKarak

It's sort of a running meme about the modern world that we all have our phones in front of our faces all of the time. I've always felt like this was an annoying exaggeration, but according to a new study, it's not completely off base.

Researchers at Lancaster University, the University of Lincoln and University of the West of England assembled a group of participants between the ages of 18 and 33 and had them estimate both the amount of times they used their phones each day and the total amount of time they used them each day over a two week period. Meanwhile, each participant had an app installed on their phone that tracked every time their phone was used and for how long, which included every engagement, even just checking the time.

At the end of the study, the participants had estimated that they had used their phones on average about 37 times a day, but they had actually used them an average of 85 times a day, more than twice the self-reported amount. The difference in overall time was not as significant with participants saying they used their phones for an average of 4 hours a day and the real total being an average of 5 hours.

But 5 hours is still about one-third of a person's waking hours. That's a big chunk of our lives being spent on a device.

Some of this can be excused by the fact that smartphones are the combination of several tools that people would be interacting with throughout the day. If not a smartphone, we'd be checking our watches to get the time, reading our email on our computers, using a phone to make calls, checking a map for directions, taking photos with a camera, jotting down notes on a notepad, etc. Just think of all the tasks you use your phone for throughout the day that you used to accomplish through other means. Probably a similar amount of time would be spent on those tasks, but now we use one device to do them all.

There's no denying that smartphones can be addictive though and it's important to interact with the world around us and not just our screen. There are games like this one that a student invented to help her and her peers to spend less time on their phones as well as this app developed by the UNICEF Tap Project that donates money to provide water for a child without access to clean drinking water for every ten minutes you don't touch your phone.

Parks in England are even encouraging people to leave their phones behind before they hit the trails to help them immerse themselves in nature for a while.

If nothing else, the study shows that we need to be more mindful of the way we use our phones. Most of the phone interactions in the study were short with more than half of uses lasting less than 30 seconds, likely meaning compulsive checking of messages and social media, but those short bursts add up. Just going longer between "checking in" could make a big difference in how much we look at our screens.

We use our smartphones twice as much as we think we do
A new study shows that we're far more dependent on our phones than we think.

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