Integrated Realities

I actually use its capacity as a phone less than anything else— be it texting, web-browsing, reading news, or playing games.

Student Participant

I am mostly attached to texting and Facebook. Once I have no texts and Facebook gets boring, I read the news or play one of the five games I have. When I am texting or on Facebook, or reading the news, I feel connected to the world rather than just what I am surrounded by at that moment.

Student Participant

Because smartphones provide a variety of services beyond calling and texting, they become a sense of comfort for students. Young adults engage with their phone multiple times throughout the day for general information and communication purposes: calls, texts, emails or messages through social media platforms. Beyond this, students turn to their phones to fill empty spaces: when they are bored, in uncomfortable situations or alone.  The mobile phone has become a social surrogate for filling the silence in daily life, from the moment students wake until they go to sleep.

“Checking my phone is the first thing I do when I wake up and the last thing I do before I go to sleep,” mentioned a participant. Many of the respondents find comfort in hiding behind their phone.

Students reported finding consistent comfort in the digital world, where they could forgo many of the negotiations they must make when socializing in their immediate physical surroundings. “Checking out” was a phrase often used by students to talk about how they used their phones in public places, with friends, and in most social occasions. While they can handle multiple conversations at once, this new use of information creates some negotiations between their ability to handle social situations in person versus on their phone. Mentioned one student, “I have a better relationship with my phone than with people around me.”

While most people still use the phone as a communication device first and foremost, smartphones have allowed for more integrated use of other information features into mobile phone habits. There are two major categories of applications worth mentioning: apps with social benefits, and apps with practical purposes.

Figure – Wordtree Usage of Phone (See graph in Many Eyes HERE)

The first category includes apps with social benefits such as Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and games shared with friends. Most phones also include a high quality camera that people use to capture moments. These moments are often shared instantly as photos or videos through apps such as Instagram or YouTube. Through all these different apps, the smartphone has become the ultimate tool for socialization. Communicating with friends and family is highly valued by the participants in this study. Social apps seem to have a great impact on how people socialize beyond texting and calling. These apps have not yet replaced the need for personal one-to-one interaction that calling and texting provide, but this study did report a rising trend in the use of private messages on social platforms. Since students are checking these platforms multiple times during the day through their smartphones, they access the message within a time frame that is considered “instant.” Some people even get notified once they receive a new message or email, which makes it equal to a regular text, except for the fact that it’s free.

The other category of apps is practical apps that people use to make life easier such as weather, maps and traveling tools. These apps provide people with instant and quick information whenever they need it. Since most people keep their phone in reachable distance, they are more likely to create habits using their phone.