Smart phone attachment

Are you emotionally attached to your smart phone? That was the question scientists in the UK and Iceland hoped to answer.

Gísli Thorsteinsson of the University of Iceland in Reykjavik and Tom Page of Loughborough University explain how the emergence of devices such as the Apple iPhone in January 2007 gave users a computer in their pocket. The gadget not only allowed them to make phone calls and send text messages as previous phones had, but also gave users immediate access to social media and social network systems, such as Facebook and Twitter, allowed them to access their email quickly and seamlessly, provided access to the web, video clips, music files and a whole eco system of phone-based software, apps, all via a slick touch screen interface. Today, there are myriad brands and smart phone models all competing for market share.

As such, understanding how users become reliant on their smart phone for particular tasks, how they invest time and money in these gadgets and perhaps even how their relationship with these all-in-one pocket computer-communicators is important to the manufacturers hoping to beat rivals to sell more of their brand. Today, it is considered the norm for people to repeatedly and distractedly to check their phones, not for missed calls, but for the countless notifications that social sites, apps and other software spit out at them via that touch screen.

In some circles, teenagers, journalists, business users and other professionals, it is even considered something of a social faux pas, a sign of being inept not to have a constant connection with the outside world via one’s smart phone regardless of the circumstances one finds oneself at any given time.

There has been much discussion in the popular media of the pros and cons of the smart phone, irrespective of whether a person uses an iPhone, an HTC model, a Samsung, a Blackberry, a Windows phone or any other of the countless devices on the market, and whether we as a society are becoming over-reliant, dependent even, on these always-on devices. Thorsteinsson and Page wanted to know whether this attachment to one’s smart phone has a serious emotional element.

Through a questionnaire given to 205 smart phone users in the age range 16 to 64 years from the UK, Hong Kong, China, Canada, Australia, Peru and the USA and through a case study the team has drawn a preliminary conclusion. They found that people do indeed grow emotionally attached to their smart phone, or at least, the connectivity and the technology that the device facilitates (Obviously, a lost or stolen phone can be replaced with the same model and a data backup restored to the replacement; the same cannot be said of a lost pet dog, for instance).

It is the ease with which smart phone can be used, the need to keep them close, the ability to pour out one’s life into the apps and networks to which it connects and the customisation and personalisation options of a smart phone that bring emotional baggage to ownership, the team suggests.

“Smart phones are creating a huge ripple in the pond of human behaviour and it is important that, as smart phones develop, we continue to study the way they affect behaviour, emotions and emotional attachments,” the team concludes.

Thorsteinsson, G. And Page, T. (2014) ‘User attachment to smartphones and design guidelines’, Int. J. Mobile Learning and Organisation, Vol. 8, Nos. 3/4, pp.201–215.

Author: David Bradley

Award-winning, freelance science writer based in Cambridge, England.