Americans have a close but tentative bond with their smartphone

Story Highlights

  • Nearly six in ten smartphone users in the US say they use their smartphone too much
  • But a larger majority say the phone has improved their lives
  • Increasing numbers rely more on the phone than the computer to perform online tasks

WASHINGTON, DC — The percentage of American adults who say they use their smartphones “too much” has risen significantly in recent years, from 39% when Gallup last asked in 2015 to 58% today.

This sentiment was strongly age-dependent in 2015 and still is today; however, all age groups are more likely to express these concerns. Also, this belief is ubiquitous, not just among the over-20s; smartphone users aged 30 to 49 (74%) say they spend too much time on their phones as much as 18 to 29 (81%) do. This is in contrast to 47% of the 50 to 64-year-olds and 30% of the over-65s.

As in 2015, there is little gender difference in whether adults think they use their smartphones too much, 60% of women and 56% of men now say so.

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The latest findings come from a self-run web survey of more than 30,000 U.S. adults conducted in January and February this year, using the probability-based Gallup Panel. Nearly all adults who took the poll, 97%, said they own a smartphone, compared to 81% in the 2015 survey.

Two-thirds of Americans say smartphones have made their lives better

Even if Americans think they use their smartphones too much, nearly two-thirds think their smartphones have made their lives better — 21% say it made their lives “a lot” better and 44% “a little” better. This is slightly down from the 72% that had a net benefit in 2015.

Only 12% say smartphones have made their lives worse to some degree, although this is double in 2015.

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Other indicators of Americans’ personal connection to their smartphones haven’t changed since 2015.

  • Half of Americans agree with the statement, “I can’t imagine my life without my smartphone,” essentially unchanged from 47% seven years ago.
  • The percentage who say they would feel anxious if they lost their phone for a day – a possible marker of smartphone addiction – has remained stable at 44% today, up from 42% in 2015.
  • Just over eight in ten adults (83%), similar to the 2015 figure (82%), say they almost always have their smartphone nearby during their waking hours.

The percentage indicating that they keep their smartphone close at night while they sleep has increased slightly, from 63% to 72%. In addition, a new question this year says that 64% say they check their smartphone as soon as they wake up in the morning.

As with the belief that someone spends too much time on their phone, Americans’ reports of their attachment to their phone are strongly related to age. Adults under the age of 50 are much more likely than those over 50 to report carrying their phone around the clock and checking it upon waking, as well as fearing losing it for a day. The age groups differ less in not being able to imagine their life without it. Just under half of the elderly say this, compared to 53% of 30-49 year-olds and 64% of 18-29 year-olds.

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Using smartphones for online shopping wins the most

In the same poll, smartphone users were asked whether they primarily use their smartphone or a computer to perform some routine actions — such as browsing the web and using social media — or whether they use these tools equally.

Since 2015, Americans are much more likely to report doing these tasks primarily on their smartphone rather than a computer.

  • The biggest change occurred in the use of smartphones for online purchases, from 11% who said they spent more time on their smartphone than on their computer in 2015 to 42% today, an increase of 31 percentage points.
  • There is a 23 to 25 point increase in Americans’ reliance on smartphones to browse the web, compare prices or view products online and manage their finances.
  • The percentage that depends on smartphones to use social media has increased by 17 points, comparable to the 14 point increase in managing one’s investments.

There is little change in the percentage who mainly use the smartphone to check email, with only six points, from 39% to 45%.

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When ranked by the 2022 percent that will depend on smartphones for each, checking social media and browsing the web top the list, with the majority of Americans relying more on their smartphones and relatively little on computers. While not the majority, more people rely on their smartphone than on a computer for online shopping and email. In contrast, about as many people choose their smartphone as a computer to make online purchases, manage their finances and manage their investments online.

While computers aren’t Americans’ favorite platform for online tasks, most adults find them important to many of these activities, if you factor in the percentages who say they benefit from both technologies.

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Bottom Line

It seems that Americans are increasingly outsmarting their own phones, and a growing number believe they are using their device too much. That doesn’t necessarily mean they feel the need to resist its charms, though, as the vast majority think their smartphone has made their lives better. Furthermore, smartphones are increasingly becoming the preferred method of people for performing essential tasks, making the device itself more essential.

These findings could have positive implications if smartphones increase people’s ability to work efficiently and stay connected with others. On the other hand, reliance on smartphones poses risks to people’s mental health and relationships if they become addicted, with younger Americans having the greatest potential to experience these adverse outcomes.

Meanwhile, businesses of all kinds must constantly adapt to Americans’ increasing reliance on the small screen of an ever-present telephone, rather than a computer, to shop windows, make purchases, read the news, bank, and invest. and no doubt many other things.

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