feature phone on paper background
Image: fotogestoeber/Adobe Stock

According to research from Sortlist, a UK mergers and acquisitions firm, the average person spends around 52,925 minutes scrolling social media each year (or 36 days, 18 hours and 5 minutes). The average American spends around 109 days a year online, with 32 of these days being spent on social media.

The Sortlist survey also revealed that consumers were seeking to decrease the amount of time spent on smartphones, as evidenced by an 18% increase in searches in the U.S. for dumb phones (like flip phones that have no internet access, or limited access to emails only). There has also been a 5% increase in global searches for dumb phone services.

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“Dumb phones are currently an attractive option for parents who want their children to have a phone, but at the same time limit screen time and social media usage,” said Nicolas Finet, CMO at Sortlist. “Many of Generation-Z and millennials also opt for a dumb phone to limit screen time and social media usage, as well as to enable privacy and to become more proactive in their lives. In a recent survey, we found that 32% of under-35s want to use less social media, which just proves how the trend is shifting.”

These findings deliver a warning to digital companies that are actively using smartphones and Internet of Things technologies: that consumers may well have reached a tipping point that is creating fallback to earlier technologies that they feel are less intrusive or impactive on their lives.

The American Psychological Association doesn’t recognize phone use as an addiction, but many medical professionals do. These practitioners fear that excessive phone use can lead to sleep disorders, anxiety, reduced cognition and inability to concentrate. University of Chicago researchers concur. “Present research identifies a potentially costly side effect of the integration of smartphones into daily life: smartphone-induced ‘brain drain.’ We provide evidence that the mere presence of consumers’ smartphones can adversely affect two measures of cognitive capacity—available working memory capacity and functional fluid intelligence.”

The message for companies exploiting digital technology and smartphones for consumer outreach might well be to answer the following questions.

How much is too much?

Do you text a customer with unsolicited offers that can reduce a customer’s bill or optimize services? If so, how often? Do you agree with your third-party business partners that they can bombard your customers with an onslaught of offers and messages that customers never asked for?

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Current trends suggest that online consumers want businesses to demonstrate more sensitivity to their needs—and to only send messages that are relevant.

How sticky do you get?

If a consumer visits your website and asks a question or desires a service, should you also force-navigate the consumer to other tangential offers and content before you let them go? Or do you give the customer the freedom to do what they intend to do, which gives them choice as to how long they want to remain on your website?

What is your social responsibility?

How responsible should you be for what consumers can ingest from your website? Reputable companies want to be truthful, while also protecting visitors from unsolicited and potentially harmful content. Vetting content before you post it—and screening online comments from people posting to your website (if you allow online postings) should be important daily exercises in maintaining the health and integrity of your company’s online presence.

What value do you bring to customers?

Smartphone subscriptions are getting more and more expensive while issues like battery life remain a problem. Dumb phones, because they do less, have better battery life. They are also much cheaper. For many who don’t require 24/7 internet service, dumb phones are a smart solution. “Although dumb phones can’t compete with high-tech brands in terms of their functionality or performance, they’re easily able to outshine them in important areas including durability and battery life,” Finet said.

In short, maybe it’s time for companies that provide or exploit smartphones to step back and see how consumers want to use them.

“We are seeing younger generations bring back trends of minimalism and ‘retro’ vibes, and just as the vinyl record made a resurgence, so we see the dumb phone do the same,” Finet said.

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Catch up on the latest tech innovations that are changing the world, including IoT, 5G, the latest about phones, security, smart cities, AI, robotics, and more. Delivered Tuesdays and Fridays