Wirelessly Attached: Mobile Devices Rule Our Lives

Late last week, Time magazine, in collaboration with wireless-tech company Qualcomm, released the results of a comprehensive survey about how wireless technology has affected our lives. The survey of 5,000 people from six different countries (U.S., U.K., Brazil, India, S. Korea, and China) was conducted online and over the phone.

Some rapid reactions were given at the time of the release, but I wanted to take the weekend and really digest the info and get a sense of what exactly I was looking at—because, to be quite honest, there’s a lot there. This might be one of the most extensive infographics I’ve ever come across (until I performed some Googling and found the “world’s largest infographic” seen here).

Time Mobility Survey (click to enlarge)

So what exactly can we learn from the study (full infographic to the right) about what wireless technology has done to change the way we live?

Based on the info gathered, it seems that it depends on what part of the globe you call home.

In India, 63% of those surveyed said they were able to manage more work because of wire-free technology, which was 21 points above the international average. And while some 85% of Indians surveyed said they saw an improvement in work-life balance, 55% admitted that their mobile device has come between them and their spouse.

Compare that to the South Koreans, half of whom say they spend too much time looking at their mobile devices, and believe that technology is a distraction from studies and other responsibilities of young people.

One global accord is found as it relates to efficiency. An overwhelming majority from each country believes that mobile technology has made their homeland a more, or much more, efficient place to do business. Very few responses said their country was less efficient, and almost none came back saying much less efficient.

Are We Too Dependent?

For all of the good that wireless technology—or technology in general—has done to advance businesses and speed processes up, there are some head-smacking facts that came out of this survey.

Long gone are the days when leaving the office for a vacation meant not having to worry about a thing until you returned. Whether it’s emails coming in from a staff member, or phone calls from an impatient customer, or a manager that just really needs you to run a report right about now, work follows you everywhere in a wireless world.

Simply turning off the phone or laptop would solve everything, except that might be asking too much of one’s self according to the 81% of responders who said they can’t go more than a day without their mobile device. Work even follows you to bed—68% said they put their device within arm’s reach when they’re sleeping at night. Another 16% have it in their bedroom.

Probably the saddest chart on the entire infographic is titled “Do you almost always use your mobile device while doing these other tasks.” Before I even looked at it, my interest was in how many would admit to using their device while driving. I knew the numbers would be high, and sure enough, the U.S. was ahead of all other countries with 32% saying they do use their device while driving, which doubled Brazil and China, and more than tripled the U.K.

That was only the beginning of the headshaking, though. Here’s a close-up of the full chart:

Of the scenarios posed, only Public Transportation is an activity with legitimate cause to have one’s mobile device out and actively being used. But what about the rest?

  • At the movies: It seems those pre-light-dimming-moments when the loud voice asks you to “please silence your cell phone now” don’t really mean anything. The U.S. (thankfully?) comes in last in this category. I’d really like to know why so many people in India, Brazil, and China feel the need to be on their phone while in the theater? Tweeting Will Ferrell punch lines or spoiling movie endings serves no one any good.
  • Playing with the kids: OK. Taking a video or a picture of something they’re doing and sharing it with all of your virtual friends is one thing, but let’s put down the phone and give the kids the undivided attention that they’re craving. I’d venture that more than half of the yes’s are parents responding to emails while pushing their kid on a swing. Sometimes I wonder if the parent would realize if their kid had fallen off. Snap out of the smartphone-hypnosis, Dad!
  • Attending a party: If it’s at a bar, I’m checking in on FourSquare and done. Reason numbers one through 152,472 why the cell phone goes away: Texts From Last Night. Nuff said—but I’ll say more. Be social. You’re supposedly out with friends, so talk with them. Get off of Facebook and Twitter, and interact with the people who you are spending time with. I’m positive that what they have to talk about is more interesting than looking at what some friend from high school you don’t talk to anymore ate for dinner.
  • Eating at a restaurant: See attending a party. Also, this is a much more intimate interaction than being at a bar. Imagine how the person sitting across from you thinks about your staring at your phone while they sit there in silence. Hopefully you’re out with family and this isn’t a first (and last) date. I’ll admit that I’m guilty of this if say a sporting event which is extremely important to my existence is happening and I need to follow it for fear of losing the fan-card (so maybe this is every Sunday from September-January, and every other day from October-June, and almost every day from April-October—sorry I’m not sorry), but I try my best.
  • Watching TV: Is your phone your remote control? Legitimate question, because Apple TV, Google TV, Comcast, Verizon, and some other services have apps that allow for this. If it is not, why are you on your mobile device? Wasting time while wasting time seems a little bit absurd. If you’re going to be on your phone, why not shut the TV off, or better yet, watch TV on your phone. There are apps like Crackle, Hulu, and Netflix to help with that.

It’s Still a Phone

One of the data points that, while logical, still came as a surprise was the fact that making and receiving phone calls and sending and receiving text messages still topped the list of tasks these devices were used to perform. What’s not surprising is that this was the case in places not called the United States. With all of the added bells and whistles that these smartphones come with, it’s a bit of a shock to say the least that people still remember the rudimentary function of their devices (and apparently Americans do not). Accessing the internet and taking pictures are not far off though, and in some cases (like the U.S. and U.K.) have already eclipsed them.

What About You?

It’d be interesting to hear your thoughts on how these wireless devices are changing, or have changed how you live your life. Do you find yourself stuck to your phone, answering emails after hours? Can you turn off your devices and still live a normal life?

What about your reactions to the results of the survey? Do you think the sampling size is too small to represent the entire world? Any other thoughts?


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I'm an editor for Associations Now, a magazine pubished by ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership. I live in Springfield, VA with my amazing wife, and am enjoying the ride that life is taking me on.


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