Smartphone study highlights a ‘digital divide’

November 9, 2017

Digital divide: researchers have found generations use phones differently.

A research project into smartphone use across the life span has shone a light on some interesting insights into modern Australian life.

Dr Lyn Vernon and PhD candidate Bep Uink from Murdoch University and Dr Kathy Modecki from Griffith University surveyed more than 14,000 Australians about their relationship with their smartphones.

The research team is further investigating what modern life in Australia looks like on a day-to-day basis.

Ms Uink said the study highlighted a real difference between the way people who grew up with smartphones use them, and the way people who adopted the technology as adults use smartphones.

“We found that younger people use smartphones more frequently and for a range of uses,” Uink said.

“They are less likely to make a phone call, but instead use their device as a mobile internet platform. Their phones are like a personal PC, used for listening to music, streaming videos and social media.

“We see a real shift in behaviours in people over 36 years old, who have an increasing tendency to use their smartphone in a more traditional manner, calling and texting.”

The researchers said the findings provide an important context for understanding intergenerational relationships.

Uink explained that these findings suggest that people needed to be more flexible with their social guidelines for acceptable smartphone use, as what is seen as acceptable likely differs by age.

“There is a lot of moral panic about screen time but early research suggests that young people are experiencing the same life developments, just in a different environment. It would be naïve to ignore the online context where identity development can occur and relationships can unfold,” she said.

“However, it is important to understand ways that being switched on 24/7 are damaging us. Are workplaces expecting people to check emails from home constantly and does that increase anxiety?”

Vernon has examined the use of smartphone for work after work and has found that around 45 per cent of 26 to 55 year olds are using their smartphone to extend their work day.

“Workers are feeling obliged to respond to work related messages in the evening and check their emails until they go to sleep,” Dr Vernon said.

“Setting boundaries with fixed work schedules and family time will improve family-worklife balance.”

“Families also need to negotiate screen time in the house and be vigilant about how it has potential to disrupt offline relationships. There is still a lot more to understand about the role of smartphones in modern day life, because smartphones are here to stay and they are part-and-parcel of daily life.”

The research was part of Australia’s Biggest Smartphone Survey was the online national project for National Science Week 2017, undertaken by ABC Science with funding through the Australian Government’s Inspiring Australia strategy.

More information about the project can be viewed here: https://www.modernlifestudy.com/

Modern life mobile use infographics

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