Mobile Technology’s Great Promise
We grew up watching The Jetsons. We were convinced that, by the time we were grown up, we would have a machine to make food, a talking robot to clean the house and we would simply step on a moving walkway through another machine and our makeup or hair would be perfected in mere seconds. We couldn’t have imagined then how close we would come to these conveniences due to the giant leaps in technology we’ve witnessed so far.
We now carry a talking super-computer around in our pocket. With a simple tap we can order food, send a message to ten friends, see what the weather will be like next week, make a date with someone we’ve never met and hail a cab to get us there. We’re connected with the whole world, twenty-four hours a day.
We have apps to chat with friends, apps to tell us what we need to work on, apps to keep us entertained, and apps to tell us how to get to the next place all with our phone tagging along. We have apps to wake us up in the morning, apps to play music during the day and a few more apps to help lull us to sleep after our action packed day of staring at our screens. Our phone is our intimate partner and we spend more time with it than we do with any human being in our lives.
We never have to be alone, go hungry, forget anything, get lost, or feel bored. It’s amazing, isn’t it?!
We’re starting to wonder, however, if maybe it’s not as amazing as we’d thought it would be.
Negative Effects of Smartphones
As early as 2001, we started to see reports on the correlation between mobile phone use and mental distress. By 2002 we began hearing about the need for “Digital Detox” vacations. If these wonders of technology were what we’d all been waiting for, why were we so quickly feeling the need to run from it?
Once apps and social media began to take hold of our time and attention, health professionals and researchers took no time in raising their concern. From reports of emotional disconnection with family and friends to increased depression, our smartphones and apps have been blamed for a long list of maladies.
Breakdown of empathy
In a 2015 survey nearly half of eighteen-to-twenty-nine-year-olds said they used their phones to “avoid others around [them].” Children are being seen to make less eye contact and a recent study done by a group of social psychologists, from the University of Michigan, found that today American college students have scored the lowest on a standard empathy test than ever before.
When we have convenient social shields with us at all times and we spend so much time behind them, the fear from experts is that the loss of empathy we are seeing will only continue to worsen. With a lack of empathy comes a breakdown in communication, compassion, social skills, and community. That’s a pretty big fear laid at the feet of the technological marvels we all carry around in our pockets.
Many of us wake up with our smart phones beside us and they are often the very first thing we look at when we wake up. Then we try not to give in to all the tempting notifications beckoning us to check out all we missed while we were sleeping. Once we give in we are met with our email, our Facebook feed, our Instagram feed and maybe a news app before we finally make our way out the door and head to work. Every single piece of content and news we see has been carefully curated for us based on our interests and contacts. We’re fed exactly what we ask for — and nothing else.
Far from fighting against our inherent human confirmation biases, this insular preference-based world we live in feeds into an ideological isolation. The concern voiced by psychologists and researchers is that we live in bubbles of information and opinion that are constantly reinforced by the content we consume every day. Rather than making us a more connected society, are we actually becoming more isolated due to the phones and apps that are our free stream of information about the world?
Sleep and health disruption
A recent study published last year in the Science Translational Medicine Journal found that the amount of caffeine you’d get in a double espresso has a smaller effect on your sleep schedule than the light off of our smartphones and laptops. Articles began to emerge swearing by this habit or that to help break the smartphone in the bedroom addiction. Apple responded by releasing a “Night Shift” feature to combat the very real issue of how blue light effects our bodies’ natural sleep hormone, melatonin.
Sleep isn’t the only thing being effected, however. As a society who is already struggling with obesity and the negative effects of sitting for long periods, we now are faced with headaches and back problems due to hours spent staring down at our phones.
Even more prevalent in recent years, however, has been the concerns over the effects of mobile technology and apps on mental health. Social media apps have shouldered the blame for much of this. Research papers and articles cover the exposure to “highly idealized representations of peers on social media” and how this “elicits feelings of envy and the distorted belief that others lead happier, more successful lives.”
Research from the University of Maryland shows that approximately four out of five students experience negative side effects when disconnecting from technology for one day. Mobile phone addiction is a real thing and there are even rehabilitation centres for those that seek help in overcoming it. Some of the symptoms cited are:
- A need to use the cell phone more and more often in order to achieve the same desired effect.
- Persistent failed attempts to use the cell phone less often.
- Preoccupation with smartphone use.
- Turns to cell phone when experiencing unwanted feelings such as anxiety or depression.
- Excessive use characterized by loss of sense of time.
- Has put a relationship or job at risk due to excessive cell phone use.
- Need for newest cell phone, more applications, or increased use.
- Withdrawal, when cell phone or network is unreachable.
In short, some of the technology we dreamt of 54 years ago has materialized and brought with it both wonder and worry.
Escape From All This Technology
In response to some of the real effects many have felt at the hands of mobile technology, an entire industry offering “digital detox” assistance has sprung up. There are even, ironically, a few apps focused specifically on helping users to limit their screen time. From articles to rehab centres to technology-free adult summer camps, there are so many resources set up to help us all disconnect from our phones and reconnect with each other.
It’s very interesting; we wanted this technology and we love it, but we didn’t know how it might effect us — both positively and negatively — and now we can’t stop.
What Will Your Brand Do — Struggle or Support?
With so many feeling the need to escape technology and with the continued bad press for mobile technology and apps, how will your brand be affected? If your app falls into the category of social media, will you be hit with concerns about causing depression in your users? If you run a transportation app, will you be blamed for the downfall of local taxi companies?
The difficulty, of course, is that you have billions of users out there clamoring for more services, more apps, and more technology despite all the concerns and bad press. Does your brand plow ahead without a sideways glance at some of the downsides of all our technology dependence and mobile addiction? Or do you work to create more of a partnership with your users with their health and well-being in mind?
People fall in love with brands that they can identify with, and with tools and products that they feel make their lives better. People fall in love with brands who make them more of who they are, so it follows that if you help your users while still serving them you will become one of their beloved brands.
Helping could be something as simple as using push notifications that are respectful of your users’ time and attention — don’t needlessly distract them unless you’re offering real value. Helping could be designing your app in a way that fits with your users’ goals instead of your own — allow your users to access what they want and get out and on with their lives. Helping could be suggesting in-person meeting times in chat apps to encourage face-to-face time with friends — help get your users out of your app and into the real world and they will come back to your app again and again.
While we don’t think anyone would give up their hand-held supercomputer and we’re still waiting for the instant makeup and hair-do machines, the reality of the technology we do have has come with both freedom and fear. If we ignore that fear and negative impacts, we enable it to get worse. If we keep human relationships, and the emotional and physical health of our users in mind, we can continue to build great mobile apps into the future — and enjoy all the wonder of them, worry-free.
Taplytics is a fully integrated mobile A/B testing, push notification, and analytics platform providing the tools you need to optimize your mobile app.