By next year, two-thirds, or 66.5%, of adults worldwide will own a smartphone according to new forecasts by media measurement company Zenith.
In terms of adoption, the Netherlands leads the pack with 94% of its adult population owning a smartphone, and is one of five countries with penetration over 90%. For the U.S. and the U.K., adoption is at nearly 70%. Pakistan has the lowest adoption at 36%.
Mobile devices alone will account for 73% of internet consumption in 2018, and 59% of ad spending.
The beauty of the smartphone is that it puts the world in your hand. You can more easily keep in touch with friends near and far, keep track of everything from tasks to meetings to recipes. You have instant access to your social media accounts where you can share your life. And you have the internet, with it’s vast stores of knowledge and unlimited entertainment, in the palm of your hand.
But despite all of the benefits and good intentions of the smartphone, the rise of them has come with unintended and negative consequences.
There is growing concern that as well as addicting users, technology is contributing toward so-called “continuous partial attention,” severely limiting people’s ability to focus, and possibly lowering IQ. One recent study showed that the mere presence of smartphones damages cognitive capacity – even when the device is turned off.
In other words, smartphone users are distracted, all of the time.
It seems smartphones have become an obsession. Since the launch 10 years ago of the smartphone that changed the world, Apple’s iPhone, that little screen is always nearby, whether in our pocket or purse, on our nightstands or under our pillows. In fact, we users are so attached to our smartphones that we touch them around 2,617 times a day.
“The technologies we use have turned into compulsions, if not full-fledged addictions,” wrote Nir Eyal, author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products. “It’s the impulse to check a message notification. It’s the pull to visit YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter for just a few minutes, only to find yourself still tapping and scrolling an hour later.”
This addiction has come with some negative consequences, both digital and in the real world.
For one example of how smartphones have impacted life in the real world, one need only look at traffic fatalities and accidents. Over the past two years, after decades of declining deaths on U.S. roadways, traffic fatalities have surged 14.4%, and much of that rise may be attributable to smartphones.
Beyond that, people are interacting with each other less, and the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture found that those who felt their romantic partners were too dependent on their devices said they weren’t as satisfied in their relationship as those who perceived their partners to be less dependent on them.
In the digital realm, smartphones have given rise to social media and the attention-based market that drives it. This movement has led to political earthquakes, and cyberbullying on a massive scale. People have even died taking selfies simply for the gratification of likes.
But perhaps the more troubling development that has come with the advent of smartphones is just how subtly persuasive these technologies have become. To such an extent even, that some have said the mastery of technological design has led to the hijacking of our minds.
According to Tristan Harris, a former Google employee turned vocal critic of the tech industry, “All of us are jacked into this system. All of our minds can be hijacked. Our choices are not as free as we think they are.”
Harris, for one, has insisted that billions of people around the world have little choice over whether or not they use these now ubiquitous digital technologies, and are generally ignorant of the invisible ways a small number of people in Silicon Valley are shaping their lives. He said in a recent TED talk in Vancouver, “A handful of people, working at a handful of technology companies, through their choices, will steer what a billion people are thinking today.”
“I don’t know a more urgent problem than this,” Harris continued. “It’s changing our democracy, and it’s changing our ability to have the conversations and relationships that we want with each other.”
The gratification that comes with the notifications on our smartphones, the likes in our apps, has been made to be addictive, and has enabled hundreds of solicited and unsolicited interruptions into the lives of all of the billions of smartphone users in the arms race for people’s attention.
That’s not to say that smartphones and the technologies that are intertwined with them are inherently bad or good, but rather to say that as we become increasingly more addicted with each new tap or scroll or push notification, I wonder if we aren’t losing something of ourselves.