Does Age Matter in Our Mobile World? The Impact of Mobile Phones in Daily Life

The mobile era is among us and just like one’s wallet and keys, it is another item we just can’t leave home without.

What this mobile era means and how it impacts us is very personal. Next time when you are with a group of your friends, bring up this topic and I am guessing you will find yourselves lost in conversation and one that continues into the next you meet up.

How many times have you seen—or been—one of the people that is walking down the street lost in your phone, only to hear a car horn honk as you are about to walk into traffic or almost walk into the person walking in the other direction with their head also buried in their phone? What is that you or I are doing on our phone that is so important that we seem to regress against the norms of society when we have these devices in our hands?

The functionality of these personal devices has seen staggering growth in the past decade; these are not just phones anymore, used solely to verbally communicate with each other. For many they are our phone, calendar, contact book, alarm clock and way for us to keep up to date with all of our friends using one of the many non verbal based means of conversation.

For a recent class in my Master’s program I wanted to look at just how much are we on our mobile phones and what is it that we are using our phones for. I asked three Canadian male participants, one between 18 and32 years old, one between 33 and 54 years and one older than 55 years old, to track their mobile phone use for 24 hours and how long they spent in total within each activity during this period. All participants were smartphone users, with two using an iPhone and one a BlackBerry. After their use had been tracked, a follow-up interview took place to get a firsthand account and feedback on the exercise.   

After analyzing the data from the three participants it was easy to see that the mobile use penetration among the three was fairly equal. The difference in age had no bearing on how much one used their phone or what they were using it for.

The most common uses of their mobile phone from the participants were using them as a phone, emailing, and surfing the web. Although the phone functionality was the most common use, the average phone conversation among the participants only lasted for about one to two and half minutes. All three participants are also members of at least one social media platform, two of them never used their phone during this period to login into one of their accounts, and the other had very minimal mobile social use.

Mobile phones have also made it hard for many to separate work and pleasure: two of the three participants had more than one phone, although both participants did not use one of their phones during this 24 hour period. One participant did not use his work mobile phone, opting to use his work computer and landline while in the office and was lucky enough to not have to use his work mobile while not in the office during this period.

The other participant with multiple mobile phones did not use his personal phone at all during this period and stated that he hardly uses his personal phone anymore and has made his work phone his primary phone for both work and pleasure. For the participant who only had one phone there was a good mix of personal and work use, both during and after work hours. 

How and what people are using their phones for is an area that I think needs much more study, especially as they will only continue to become more and more a part of society and how we communicate. It appears that communication through our mobile device is a highly transactional activity using many different media. If it seems like we tend to see people with their heads down typing away more than we see it glued to ones ear, I find it very comforting to have had this research show that the phone aspect of a mobile phone is still highly used and that people still seem to prefer to communicate verbally with each other as opposed to just communicate in a cyber-world.

Even if it is only for a minute or two.