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If you’re waiting for a friend, a colleague or even a doctor’s appointment, how long do you think it takes before you check your phone – two minutes? Three? An experiment on behalf of the IT security product company Kaspersky Lab by the universities of Würzburg and Nottingham-Trent found that participants left in a waiting room on their own lasted an average of just 44 seconds before touching their smartphones. Men couldn’t even manage half of this time, waiting an average of only 21 seconds compared to women at 57 seconds.
To delve deeper into our companionship on digital devices, after ten minutes participants were asked how long they thought it had been before they reached for their phone. Most said between two and three minutes, highlighting a significant disconnect between perception and actual behaviour.
Jens Binder from the University of Nottingham Trent said: “The experiment suggests that people are far more attached to these devices than they realise and it has become second nature to turn to our smartphones when left alone with them. We do not just wait anymore. The immediacy of information and interactions delivered through our smart devices make them much more of a digital companion and connection to the outside world than a piece of technology.”
More research by the universities suggests that this compulsion to check our phones could be as a result of fear of missing out (FOMO) on something when not online. In an accompanying survey, participants that used their phones more intensely admitted to a higher level of FOMO.
Astrid Carolus, from the University of Würzburg said: “The more participants use their phone the more they are afraid they’re missing out when they aren’t accessing it. It is difficult to say which attribute fuels which – do people use their phone more because they are afraid of missing something, or is it because they use it so much that they worry they are missing out.”
The study also found that the more we use our phones, the more stressed we become. But surprisingly, when participants were asked about their overall happiness there was no difference between light and heavy users. So the stress caused by smartphone usage does not seem to have a major influence on our well-being in general. During the ten-minute waiting session, participants used their smartphone on average for almost half the time (five minutes). As previous research by Kaspersky Lab demonstrated, we rely heavily on mobile devices these days as an extension of our brains, using them as tools so we don’t have to remember facts anymore. The majority of respondents, for example, could not remember their current partner’s phone number but could still recall their home number from when they were ten.
David Emm, pictured, senior security researcher at Kaspersky Lab said: “Smartphones are an integral part of our lives today, but we need to remember that they are a commodity that people often take for granted. Having them around all the time often makes us forget how valuable they actually are because of the personal memories and other data they hold. These are not only valuable and precious to us, but also to criminals. If our personal information was to become compromised in any way, either from theft or a malware attack, we would risk losing our connection to friends and sources of information.”
Over the last two years, Kaspersky Lab has been researching into the social effects of digitalization and how this makes people potentially more vulnerable to cybercrime. An overview of the results is available at amnesia.kaspersky.com.