We could be seeing the first rumbling of a tidal shift in smartphone usage in the U.S., as well as a change in attitudes toward tech in general, if the results of a couple of new studies are any guide.
We already know that smartphones are such a fixture in the daily lives of young people they’re almost de facto bionic hands at this point. Think about everything from teens using phones to stream music, play games and manage their social standing via apps like Snapchat and Instagram, and how little time they spend during the day without a smartphone within an arm’s reach. It turns out, though, that even smartphone addiction among those who are arguably the most addicted is not an indefinite proposition without limit or end.
A new Pew Research report out today finds U.S. teens copping to feeling anxiety when they’re separated from their phones but also worried their days are packed with too much screen time. You could argue those results should definitely send a chill through big tech companies, especially social media giants that are arguably built around keeping kids snapping away and posting Instas.
“The study,” notes Wired, “found that 54 percent of US teens ages 13 to 17 worry they spend too much time on their phones, 52 percent have taken steps to cut back on their phone use, and 57 percent have tried to spend less time on social media. But efforts to cut back don’t necessarily make teens happier: 56 percent of teens associate being away from their phones with feeling anxious, lonely, or upset.”
The survey results, Wired continues, come amid growing concern about the harmful effects of addictive technology especially on younger users. “Industry insiders like Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist for Google, have highlighted manipulative software designs that trigger intermittent hits of dopamine to keep users glued to their screens.”
We delved a little deeper into that theme last month, with a report explaining the science behind engineering popular tech products and services meant to keep us hooked as if they were a digital form of white powder. “It’s as if they’re taking behavioral cocaine and just sprinkling it all over your interface,” is how one interface designer put it.
It’s not just teens who want to break their addiction, though. Adults are likewise feeling it, based on a new study about the future of technology released by Intel.
One of the big takeaways from it that immediately jumps out at you: Some 40 percent of Americans believe emerging technologies will “introduce as many new problems as solutions in the next 50 years.”
“While most consumers rely heavily on technology to stay in touch with friends and family (53 percent), many respondents reported that they fear people will develop an over-dependence on technology and will spend less time interacting with each other (56 percent),” the Intel study finds. “Further, 37 percent of consumers and 38 percent of tech elites are concerned people may be isolated from one another when they use technology.”
Time will tell if anything concrete emerges from these fears about disconnection and loneliness. For one thing, because there’s a contradiction inherent in all this. Despite the anxieties reported in the Intel study, for example, consumers stressed they’re still plenty excited by some aspects of technology that can make lives better, like 5G networks and smart home technology.