We carry cell phones ostensibly to enhance communication with other people. But according to a new survey conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, many people pretend to use their cell phones to avoid having to interact with people around them.
The survey found that 13% of surveyed adults said they had used their phones to look busy, so they wouldn’t have to talk with others. That percentage more than doubled among young adults aged 18 to 29 years, 30% of whom said they’d faked cell phone use as an avoidance mechanism. Only 2% of the oldest (65 and older) respondents reported using cell phones to avoid dealing with others.
The study of 2,277 adults, who were surveyed between April 26 and May 22, 2011, found that about 83% of Americans have a cell phone; about one-third have a smartphone. Aside from preventing unwanted interaction with others, people used their phones for:
- Information retrieval: 51% had used their phone at least once to get information they needed right away
- Emergencies: 40% of cell owners said their phone helped them in some kind of emergency situation
- Entertainment: 42% said they used the cell phones to stave off boredom
- Text messaging and picture taking: 73% of cell phone owners used their devices for each purpose
- Multimedia: 54% of respondents used their phone to send photos or videos to others, while 44% used their phone to access the Internet
Adults with smartphones tended to use their devices more intensively than those with regular cell phones: nine in 10 smartphone owners used it to text or take pictures; eight in 10 use their phone to surf the Web or send photos and videos. Likewise, they used their devices to do thing like download apps, visit social networking sites and post multimedia content online, which people without smartphones can’t do.
Many people indicated that they couldn’t live without their phones. More than a quarter of survey respondents said they had experienced a situation in the previous month that was made more difficult for not having their phone at hand.
This cell phone reliance was related to age, however: 42% of the 18-to-29 group reported a task made more difficult without a cell phone within the preceding 30 days, while only 19% of the over-65 group did. General cell phone use also begins to drop off at age 50, so that cell phone owners between the ages of 50 and 64 use their cell phones for half the activities as do members of the 30-to-49 age group.
That might also have something to do with real-life manners. A recent discussion among etiquette experts of varying generations at the magazine GOOD revealed that age may affect how cell phone use is perceived socially. While a young person and his companions may see cell phone use as a valid alternative to conversing with a real person at a party, an older person would not find this socially acceptable.
Despite the advantages of having a cell phone, many people said they needed to unplug occasionally: 29% of cell owners turned their phone off for a period of time just to get a break.
Indeed, unplugging may actually improve your social interactions. As Healthland reported last year, many people would argue that turning your phone off is a gesture of intimacy and affection for the people around you.