smartphonesThis was a quote from a member of the public broadcast on BBC Breakfast this morning in a report about our seemingly ever-increasing addiction to smartphones in the UK.

Another interviewee said that she thought smartphones had: “made my life better but children’s lives worse.”

According to the latest report from telecoms regulator Ofcom, and about which there’s a good article at

  • 78% of all adults in the UK now own a smartphone
  • 40% of us look at them within five minutes of waking
  • the average Brit checks their phone every 12 minutes while awake and uses it for about 2½ hours each day
  • a third of us check them just before falling asleep

This last one isn’t a great habit if we want to sleep well, by the way – see my blog last month re our use of apps and the effects of blue light.

How we use our phones may also have changed – the report says the total volume of calls fell in 2017.

But maybe that’s not quite the whole story – what the report didn’t track were the calls made using apps such as Skype, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger instead.

So where are we headed?

We’re using our phones to do lots more than just make calls:

  • checking emails and messages
  • posting on social media
  • managing diaries
  • listening to music
  • reading books and articles
  • catching up on news
  • watching TV and films
  • tracking our diet or fitness regime
  • shopping
  • banking
  • booking taxis
  • as cameras
  • instead of a separate satnav device
  • and so much more…

And 92% of us say web browsing is crucial.

I recently shared some jokes with friends about children opening books (not the e- versions) and trying to swipe to turn the pages – we laughed, but how funny is it, really?

And what is it with our obsession with taking photos, videos and selfies instead of enjoying whatever is happening in the moment, right now?

I don’t know about you, but my phone has become such an integrated part of my life that I struggle now to remember (or, perhaps, to imagine?) life without it.

71% of us say we never turn it off and, of course, we now even have a word to describe the panic we feel when we leave the house without our phone or when can’t get a signal: nomophobia – as well as the concept of ‘fomo’ (fear of missing out).

As a trainer, when I’m with my delegates in a training room, I’ve given up expecting everyone to switch off their phones during sessions now – the compromise being to keep them on silent/vibrate so ringtones and notifications don’t interrupt.

In fact, many face-to-face events and conferences I attend actually embrace this behaviour, actively encouraging people to stay connected online at the same time and tweet or participate in polls during sessions.

But I also deliver training and attend conferences online – and provide coaching, counselling and supervision online, too – so technology has made my working life easier in lots of ways (harder in others, of course) and opened up and created opportunities for me (and my clients) that didn’t previously exist.

Having said that, more than half of us agree that using phones and tablets interrupts face-to-face conversations with family and friends.

boys on phonesI often see the all-too-familiar dynamic of friends and family out together or at mealtimes – but maybe not really ‘together’ – not talking to each other and focused on their own, separate devices…

This reminds me, too, of the school last year which put up signs which said: “Greet your CHILD with a SMILE NOT A MOBILE”.

In fairness, many parents waiting for their children may well have been using their phones to undertake necessary tasks such as arranging play dates, doctor’s appointments or keeping in touch with other family members. But children learn from what they see adults do, so we do need to reflect occasionally on what we are doing.

The importance of real human-to-human contact and connection shouldn’t be underestimated – where both feel properly seen and heard by someone else.

When was the last time you truly gave someone else 100% of your attention – even for just a few minutes?

Research indicates that text contact doesn’t fire up that feeling of connection in the same way as speaking to someone, even on the phone. And hugs are also really important to our feeling of well-being – and this doesn’t mean the short, cursory hugs we do to say hello and goodbye, BTW – but the proper, longer meaningful kind…

It also seems that we might be using our devices as a form of self-medication – to keep us busy and distracted from uncomfortable feelings.

Lydia Smears wrote about this in last year and said: “I deleted my social media apps because they were turning me into an idiot.”

She is very honest and talks about how we can use social media and other apps as a distraction to avoid feelings or replace them with other ones. She went ‘clean’ and then “… All of a sudden I had to deal with tricky emotions…”

She goes on to talk about “… the guilt that came with time-wasting…” too, as well as her return to using social media, not being sure whether she’s any more ‘functional’ now, and how easy it can be to fall back into old behaviours and habits: “… that scrolling idiot [she’s] capable of being is only ever a few clicks away.”

The sheer amount of information so easily available now can be overwhelming, too, and it’s hard, sometimes, to work out what’s true and what’s useful.

We can get out of the habit of thinking for ourselves and, instead, ‘follow the herd’ – often finding ourselves driven down a narrowing tunnel of information by the very nature of how cookies, subscriptions and algorithms work by tailoring things to our tastes and opinions and feeding us ‘more of the same’ rather than opening us up to other possibilities.

This was the subject of a BBC Late Night Woman’s Hour in January last year for which the write up on the website says:

‘Are we all living in bubbles these days? Lauren Laverne challenges conservative commentator Laura Perrins and Labour MP Tulip Siddiq to swap social media and news feeds for forty-eight hours to find out.
“If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the internet”, Barack Obama recently advised Americans, “try talking with one of them in real life.” The outgoing US President was expressing an idea that’s gained growing weight with commentators and politics watchers on both sides of the Atlantic: increasingly, we all exist in ‘bubbles’ that shield us from ideas and truths other sections of the population hold dear. The recent US elections, and the Brexit vote, both seem to suggest that common political ground is shrinking. How much do our online lives contribute to that sense of alienation?
Eli Pariser explained in his 2011 book The Filter Bubble how social media sites and search engines use algorithms to give us more of what we like to click on, increasingly confining us in an echo chamber of our ‘likes’ and ‘follows’, and shutting out alternative views. Charles Murray’s book Coming Apart featured a quiz entitled “How Thick Is Your Bubble?”, designed to reveal how a subject’s work, class and cultural tastes might cut them off from mainstream society.
So what can we learn about the bubbles we may live in by putting aside our own online life for a day or two, and embracing someone else’s?’

Using the internet in the many ways that we do also has an impact on how we use our brains – the balance between what we remember and what we ‘Google’ when we need it, whether we notice where we’re going or rely solely on the satnav to get us there – and IMDb has killed many an enjoyable pub debate on who played which character in ‘that’ film…

What would happen if the internet stopped working – even for a day? I found an interesting article on this last year by Rachel Nuwer which is worth a read.

Personally, I think that how much we live our lives online and offline can still be a choice.

There are some great things that technology does for us so long as we remember to drive it, not be driven by it.

Our phones and other devices do still come with an ‘off switch’ – for now, anyway … and, on this aspect, I can’t help feeling pleased to see (also in today’s news) that a British firm has been fined by a French court for breaching an employee’s right to disconnect from work during weekends and holidays …

It’s something I’ve written about previously – see my blogs on: Techno Tactics. and the effect of temporary disconnection on the participants in the Channel 4 Programme ‘Life Stripped Bare.

mistake-3022434_1920We make choices several times each day – and we can either stick with those same choices or change (some of) them, if we really want to.