Smartphones Are Creating New Habitual Behaviors

Improved technology can change your life in both positive and negative ways. The availability of “smartphones” has led to changes in the usage of computing and the Internet. The “always available” mode of the Internet and the intrusion of these devices into everyday life have raised concerns. The current study found that the “checking habit,” characterized by repeated use of smartphones for short durations, is significant in users; but this habit is not considered negative by the user. Perhaps more research might shed light on the behavior associated with smartphone use.

The development of newer technology has ramifications beyond the use of these technologies themselves. For example, portable computing devices, such as the smartphone have created a persistent ubiquitous connectivity to the Internet. People using smartphones may be gathering information, seeking entertainment and socializing in a different way. A “habit” is defined as an unthinking behavior that is prompted by situational cues. There is a concern that smartphone users might be forming new habits of socializing, spending time gathering information. Such changes in an individual would ultimately affect society at large. The current study reviewed studies related to habits formed that are associated with smartphone use, and then drew conclusions.

* Data from three studies on the use of smartphones, carried out from 2005 to 2010, was used for the present research.
* The first study compared 136 smartphone users with 160 laptop users. A custom software tracked users on the Android G1 smartphone and laptop users.
* The second study was an intervention in which cues for awareness were incorporated into the address-books of three groups of smartphone users.
* The third study used diaries of 12 smartphone users from the Helsinki School of Economics, mentioning their experiences during the first two weeks of phone use.

* Short-duration use (less than 30 seconds) indicates movements such as sending a text message. The incidence of short duration habitual usage sessions on smartphones was significantly higher than on laptops.
* Smartphone use was more evenly spread throughout the day than laptop usage. Increased use of text messaging or using browsers was correlated to increased incidence of habit-forming behavior.
* In the second experiment that included 30,295 sessions of smartphone usage, 3.7 percent were scrolling sessions indicating the use of an application and 35 percent were touching sessions indicating turning the screen off or on.
* In the third experiment, the applications in order of popularity were found to be e-mail, Facebook, the news, feeds, music, calendar and browsing.

Next steps/Shortcomings
It is generally presumed that increased use of a smartphone has affected the lifestyle of its users, and it could have negative consequences. However, findings of the third experiment in this review suggest that a smartphone habit is not considered as problematic and is actually perceived to be a positive experience by some. This was a finding from diaries of the users. It may be that the small sample size of the diary study and duration did not allow for addiction to be observed.

The review of all three studies showed that brief usage of one’s smartphone repeatedly over time is significant. This “checking habit” could be called a behavior, consisting of visiting a smartphone application or touching the screen of a smartphone. The applications associated with the checking habit included the home screen, contact book, e-mail, social media, and news. Smartphones are used throughout the day as compared to laptops. People use smartphones often as a “gateway” to entertainment and information. That is, they use one application, and through that reach other applications. The checking habit does interfere with other activities, but is not considered problematic by the smartphone user. In fact, they attribute positive experiences like entertainment, time-killing, and diversion to their checking habit.

For More Information:
Habits Make Smartphone Use More Pervasive
Publication Journal: Personal and Ubiquitous Computing, June 2011
By Antti Oulasvirta; Tye Rattenbury; Aalto University, Helsinki, Finland

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