Researchers found a series of triggers, common across age groups that start and end habitual smartphone use.
Everywhere you look, people are looking at their mobile screens.
Researchers conducted in-depth interviews with smartphone users to learn why people compulsively check their phones.
In the decade since smartphones have become ubiquitous, we now have a feeling almost as common as the smartphones themselves: being sucked into that black hole of staring at those specific apps, you know which ones they are, and then a half an hour has gone by before you realise it.
According to the study presented at ACM CHI conference, researchers found a series of triggers, common across age groups that start and end habitual smartphone use.
The team also explored user-generated solutions to end undesirable phone use.
"For a couple of years, I've been looking at people's experiences with smartphones and listening to them talk about their frustration with the way they engage with their phones. But on the flip side, when we ask people what they find meaningful about their phone use, nobody says, 'Oh, nothing.' Everyone can point to experiences with their phone that have personal and persistent meaning," said co-author Alexis Hiniker.
Hiniker and her team interviewed three groups of smartphone users: high school students, college students, and adults who have graduated from college.
The team was surprised to find that the triggers were the same across age groups.
"This doesn't mean that teens use their phones the same way adults do. But I think this compulsive itch to turn back to your phone plays out the same way across all these groups."
"People talked about everything in the same terms: The high school students would say 'Anytime I have a dead moment if I have one minute between classes I pull out my phone.' And the adults would say 'Anytime I have one dead moment if I have one minute between seeing patients at work I pull out my phone," Hiniker said.
To the team, this finding pointed to a more nuanced idea behind people's relationships with their phones.
"People describe it as an economic calculation. Like, 'How much time do I spend with this app and how much of that time is actually invested in something lasting that transcends this specific moment of use?' Some experiences promote a lot of compulsive use, and that dilutes the time people spend on activities that are meaningful,” she added.
When it comes to designing the next wave of smartphones, Hiniker recommends that designers shift away from system-wide lockout mechanisms.
Instead, apps should let users be in control of their own engagement. And people should decide whether an app is worth their time.