Americans have extra appendages

Almost every Floridian has an extra appendage, a cell phone.

As I do my morning walks, I see all kinds of people, cell phones growing out of one ear. Some have them flat in their palm as if they are reading Tarot cards, others in their pockets with thin strings linking from pocket to ear pod. Old people, millennials, very young, homeless looking ones, scruffy kids on bikes, badly dressed poor who look physically challenged. Cell phones everywhere. It is phenomenal.

Cell phone in the USA
As of 2015, cell phone use by Americans jumped for 35% to 64% in just four years. Ownership is highest among the young, those with relatively high incomes and education. But I was shocked by seeing seemingly very poor people using high-end phones. Their networks service costs have to be a significant financial burden. However, when we shopped to get US-Canada phone capability, we were very surprised at the low cost for packages and phones. We ended up buying two phones with unlimited service, “Hotspot” connectivity, North American roaming and 2 months full service on both phones, all for less than $400 US. In Canada, you cannot even buy a phone for that amount, let alone network service.

Nearly 10% of American smartphone users have no other connectivity to the Internet at all, just their cell phone.

Racial considerations show that 4% of whites use phones, Blacks, 12% and Latinos, 13%.

The financial impact is considerable. Nearly 50% of the users have had to shut off their phones for intermittent periods of time due to cost impact.

As expected many users rely on the phones to connect them with work-related calls. But even these users vary their phone use from calling to texting to basic exploration of the Internet.

  • 62% of smartphone owners have used their phone in the past year to look up information about a health condition.
  • 57% have used their phone to do online banking.
  • 44% have used their phone to look up real estate listings or other information about a place to live.
  • 43% to look up information about a job.
  • 40% to look up government services or information.
  • 30% to take a class or get educational content.
  • 18% to submit a job application.

Income and cell phone use
Lower-income smartphone owners are especially likely to use their phone during a job search. Compared with smartphone owners from households earning $75,000 or more per year, those from households earning less than $30,000 annually are nearly twice as likely to use a smartphone to look for information about a job — and more than four times as likely to use their phone to actually submit a job application.

Similarly, “smartphone-dependent” users are much more likely to use their smartphones to access career opportunities. 63% of these smartphone-dependent users have gotten job information on their phone in the last year, and 39% have used their phone to submit a job application.

Use among the young
Young adults
(85% of whom are smartphone owners) incorporate their mobile devices into a host of information seeking and transactional behaviours. About 75% of 18-29-year-old smartphone owners have used their phone in the last year to get information about a health condition; about 70% have used their phone to do online banking or to look up information about job; 44% have consumed educational content on their phone; and 34% have used their phone to apply for a job.

  • A substantial majority of smartphone owners use their phone to follow along with news events near and far, and to share details of local happenings with others:
  • 68% of smartphone owners use their phone at least occasionally to follow along with breaking news events, with 33% saying that they do this “frequently.”
  • 67% use their phone to share pictures, videos, or commentary about events happening in their community, with 35% doing so frequently.
  • 56% use their phone at least occasionally to learn about community events or activities, with 18% doing this “frequently.”

Each of these behaviours is especially prevalent among younger smartphone owners: for instance, 17% of smartphone owners ages 18-29 use their phone to reserve a taxi or car service at least occasionally. Additionally, African American and Latino smartphone owners look up public transit information on their phones at higher rates than whites (37% of black smartphone owners, 30% of Latinos, and 21% of whites do this at least on occasion).

Types of usage
Text messaging is the most widely-used smartphone feature but voice/video calling remains popular, even among young smartphone owners; email continues to retain a place of prominence in the smartphone era. Social networking, video consumption, and music/podcasts are especially popular with younger smartphone owners.

Three smartphone features in particular — social networking, watching video, and listening to music or podcasts — are especially popular with younger users. Features such as watching video and listening to music or podcasts are even more the domain of young smartphone owners.

Younger users stand out especially prominently when it comes to using their phone for two purposes in particular: avoiding boredom and avoiding people around them. Fully 93% of 18-29-year-old smartphone owners in the experience sampling study used their phone at least once to avoid being bored, with respondents in this age group reporting that they did so in an average of 5.4 surveys over the one-week study period. Similarly, 47% of young smartphone owners used their phone to avoid interacting with the people around them at least once during the study period, roughly three times the proportion of older smartphone owners who did so.

Emotional impact of phone use
When it comes to the emotions that people experience as a result of having a smartphone, “productive” and “happy” lead the way — 79% and 77% of smartphone owners, respectively, indicated that their phone made them feel this way at least once over the course of the study period. But smartphones do not always inspire positive feelings, as 57% of smartphone owners reported feeling “distracted” thanks to their phone, and 36% reported that their phone made them feel “frustrated.”

Younger smartphone owners tend to experience a wider range of these emotions compared with older users — they are more likely to report feeling positive emotions like “happy” or “grateful,” but also more likely to report negative emotions like “distracted” and “angry.”

In conclusion, older users may use phones as anchors connecting to families and friends but the majority of users, the young, use the phone more asocially. For them, cell phones are practical tools for making life more convenient. For the old, they are lifelines for social connectivity.

American youths in conversation


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