Mobility

Here's how to see just how addicted to mobile you are

Sure. You can quit any time. But, just how much of your life is consumed by your smartphone?

Image: iStockphoto/gregory_lee

I hate to break it to you, but you're average. I know, I know—you got a trophy every time you stepped onto the court or soccer field. But here's the truth: You're just like everyone else.

Which means, of course, that you spend several hours each day gaping at your mobile device.

If you're like me, you read statistics from eMarketer that claim we spend more than three hours every day on our mobile devices and you say, "Not me." That is, I did, until I spent two weeks tracking my mobile usage with the Moment app, which sits in the background and counts the minutes your phone is unlocked.

SEE: BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) Policy Template (Tech pro Research)

Now I have proof that I'm above average in something: I spend 3 hours and 23 minutes on my phone every day. This is not how I hoped to get ahead in life.

In good company

It's really easy to get lost in the enormity of how smartphones, in particular, have changed our lives. When I graduated from high school, the first Motorola brick phones were starting to get traction, but no one thought those same phones would one day consume so much of our lives, and not because we were talking on them.

According to eMarketer, we spend an average of 3 hours and 18 minutes each day on our mobile devices. In theory, we should be spending more time with our laptops, given that we pay for those mobile data plans with a day job. But, that's not the case, as the chart at right shows.

According to a Deloitte study, Americans check their phones 46 times each day, up from 33 times per day in 2014. (That's the average, by the way. Millennials check their phones 74 times each day.)

Tally that up across the US population, and we collectively check our phones eight billion times every day. Most of that time—up to 90%, by some estimates—is spent in apps.

(One way to see how your own time compares to this average is by looking under your battery settings on your phone, which will tell you which apps consume the most battery life. For me, that's Messages. I text a lot.)

Why does this matter? Putting individuals aside for a minute, the amount of time we spend on our phones has serious ramifications for any business that touches consumers in some way, as Facebook marketing chief Carolyn Everson has said:

People are spending about 25% of their day on mobile devices, checking them over 100 times a day. That is going to change not only marketing, but business completely. So if you're an e-commerce company that starts today, you'd start as a mobile e-commerce company. If you were to start a financial institution today, you'd start completely thinking about mobile."

Looking beyond how enterprises hope to target mobile-addicted consumers, however, it's worth looking inward. Most of us would prefer to spend a bit less time glued to screens and instead spend it interacting with people in person. The first step toward that vision, however, is to recognize just how much time we spend with our mobile screens.

Winning the participation trophy

As mentioned, I didn't think I spent as much time as I do with my phone. Sure, it never leaves me, and tends to be the first thing I look at when I wake up (my Kindle gets the honor of saying "goodnight" to me), but 3 hours and 18 minutes seemed like a lot of time.

I wish. I'm typically five minutes over that average, and some days I'm way over the average.

Once I enabled Moment, and watched the numbers add up, I had irrefutable proof of the depth of my affliction. I also learned that the time I spend with my phone is broken up into tiny increments:

phonedata.jpg

Such "mobile moments," as Forrester calls them, are potentially a mobile marketer's dream, but they're also an indication of just how hard it can be to reverse the trend toward spending more and more time on small screens. Abstinence, it seems, might be the best policy when it comes to screen time.

SEE: Research: We're mobile addicts but we just don't want new smartphones (ZDNet)

That is, I don't really know how to eliminate those minutes spent on my phone without putting the phone down and walking away...until I get the "munchies" and sneak back for a quick look. Moment has a paid feature that allows you to set limits on phone use each day, which I might try. I worry that I'll use up my phone time on useless things and won't be able to take a call from my boss. (On the other hand....)

What do you think?

Is this a problem, one that you share? I invite you to try Moment, or a similar app, and get a sense for just how much time you spend on your mobile devices each day. The answer might surprise you. As for what to do about it, I'd love your feedback.

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    About

    Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.

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