How Smartphones Impact Society
How does smartphones influence people when they are communicating? How do people use smartphones? How does smartphones change our life in communications?
Mobile is the new Internet. With nearly 4 billion mobile phones, the size and reach of the mobile market is vastly bigger than the PC industry (Berman, 2013). The smartphone is leading the pack. By definition, a smartphone is a cellphone with brains. In other words, it is smart enough to do much more than just make phone calls. It serves as a handheld computer, personal calendar, web browser, calculator, e-reader, and database (Agger, 2011). Perhaps most important, a smart phone is able to receive wireless calls. Traditional cell phones can also send and receive email or allow for web browsing; however, most lack the ease and flexibility offered by a smartphone. The smartphone has quickly become the preferred computing device for many Americans, and are predicted to be owned by nearly 90% of all consumers in the United States by the year 2015 (Exact Target, 2011).
Noteworthy characteristics of smartphones include their miniature keyboards that come complete with keypad shortcuts to allow for more seamless texting. Smartphones also allow users to download Word and PDF attachments and view them on screens that are actually large enough so that messages are legible. Anywhere internet access is a standard feature of smartphones. The devices use the phone’s mobile-network connection and special data plans available at an extra monthly fee for network-driven functions such as email and instant messaging (Agger, 2011). Smartphones range in size and shape, with most being small enough to fit into a pocket.
The world of innovative technical solutions has shaped the way we communicate, collaborate, and interact today. Smart phones are for the most part, communication devices, with additional computing power built in. The fact that they are more comparable to personal computers means that users have more options. User activities are fully supported through effective functionality that speeds networking between people. There is more emphasis on social settings and communication needs than on computation (Berman, 2013). This paper will focus on the ways that smartphone technology has led changed information sharing and social connections — interactions that would be difficult or impossible to achieve without smart phone technology.
Not only is the smartphone uniquely qualified for enhanced digital communication, it can also create interesting content in the form of video, audio, or text. Its two-way functionality and information sharing is ideal for supportive social computing (Agger, 2011). The fact that many of us are dependent on these devices alludes to their utility, effectiveness and pervasiveness in our life (Berman, 2013). According to Agger, we can expect to see smartphones as a percentage of all mobile phones grow from 13.4% in 2009 to 25.2% by 2014 (2011). In particular, we can consider several categories of smart phone applications and how they have improved connectivity and information sharing in our society.
Most people actually use their smartphones to make phone calls, which is still the most common usage of the device (Agger, 2011). 31% of consumers say they use their smart phones to make calls “constantly throughout the day,” while 69% make several phone calls each day (Exact Target, 2011). In total, 87% indicate making at least one call per day. Studies suggest texting is a second most popular usage of smartphones, with over 50% of users texting several times per day. Email is the third most common activity, with over 53% of consumers reporting to use their smartphone to check email several times per day (Exact Target, 2011). Web browsing is also a top smartphone activity with general web surfing or news reading being reported as the most common activities (Berman, 2013).
To further support interactions and communications between individual people, the smartphone offers new experiences through social media (Agger, 2011). Facebook is the only social media outlet used by a majority of smartphone owners on a daily basis (Exact Target, 2011). Most log in each day and stay connected, while others check in at least daily. This includes both men and women of all social classes and racial/ethnic backgrounds. Smartphones have screens suitable for higher resolutions on information displays. They offer impressive processing power, data memory and low-to-no cost short- and long-range connections. (Agger, 2011).
Almost all smart phones also support Bluetooth communication, a wireless standard offering free local connectivity. Bluetooth technology lets devices discover each other and exchange data with differing levels of user input. As a result of these features and capabilities, people stay in constant communication. Today, smartphone users can access and update their dating profiles, search for loved ones, apply for jobs, attend college classes, blog and shop (Berman, 2013). This marks a new day in technology.
Another emerging trend in smartphone use is access to healthcare information and public health awareness. Doctors and public health officials are finding that smartphones can be wonderful tools for disseminating public health information and carrying out community interventions (Fenske, 2013). As more people globally begin to use smartphones, health apps became more popular. Additionally, health promotion professionals can now reach minority populations who are early adopters of smartphone technology. Everything from anti-tobacco to anti-obesity messages has found willing audiences through smartphone technology. This can help shape consumer health/health behavior and educate the masses. Today, the development of health promotion programs using smartphones and apps offers guidelines for chronic disease management, improved physician-patient interaction, and improved access to services from a distance (Fenske, 2013).
Smartphones have also had a direct effect on education. In the United States and elsewhere, smartphone technology has enhanced educational attainment and experiences (Agger, 2011). Critical thinking and virtual interactions are required and as a result, users must sharpen their analytical skills. Instant access to information and portability have also made the educational use of smartphones excellent options for those in developing nations, where the devices do not just complement educational experiences but may be the only means of having them. Smartphones offer access to resources across the world and make it easier for people everywhere to learn, share information and compete in the global marketplace (Berman, 2013).
Smartphones have also impacted the way we conduct business and carry out financial transactions (Agger, 2011). Smartphones offer 24/7 access that includes identity verification and direct payment mechanisms. Users can check their bank accounts and contact customer service with questions and receive text or phone replies. Today, most smartphones also allow for virtual check deposits by utilizing the built in smart phone camera to send front and back images of a signed check. This eliminates bank trips or envelopes and stamps (Berman, 2013). Shopping is also a common activity. In 2011, over 50% of consumers reported completing purchases online using smartphone apps from their favorite stores and vendors (Exact Target, 2011). This has led to an increase in mobile and smartphone advertising. The reach and diversity of the mobile audience makes smartphone platforms ideal for marketing and promotion.
Applications, or apps, have revolutionized communication. Smartphone owners use apps for nearly every conceivable need (Berman, 2013). Shopping apps have become increasingly common. This attraction to smartphones for purchasing decisions is also reflected in unexpected industries such as travel and tourism. It is estimated that 15 million U.S. internet users carry out travel research using online travel sites each month (Exact Target, 2011). An estimated 38% of travelers have used their smartphones to plan a trip, read about destinations, research traveler reviews, book or review accommodations, and book or review flights. Further, while traveling, more than 60% of travelers said they use their mobile devices to research restaurants, use GPS technology and tools, check their flight status and find local attractions. The only challenge seems to be sporadic connectivity abroad, but most smartphone users find their apps offer them a great deal of flexibility and convenience (Agger, 2011).
It is also evident that smartphones have changed the way media and journalism function in society. Through built-in smartphone cameras, videos and photos can be taken and shared by everyday consumers. This makes not only access to news and information more timely, but also diversifies the viewpoint from which we learn about the latest happenings in our society and abroad (Agger, 2011). Gone are the days of relying on mainstream media to gather the facts, analyze or spin them, and report them to the masses. Smartphones allow virtually anyone to be a reporter, although there are some risks associated with this – including photo and video manipulations passed off as factual depictions of circumstances surrounding an event (Berman, 2013).
It is worth noting that there are a number of critics that point out that the impact of smartphones on society is not all positive (Agger, 2011). There are those that cite smartphones as being to invasive and making it easier for some, particularly children, to fall victim to cyber-bullying, identify theft, and violations of privacy (McGreavy, 2012). Children may also be targets for robbery because of their expensive smartphones. In addition, there are not very strong parental controls in place to protect youth from pornography, violent images or sexually explicit content. Other critics state that smartphones contribute to social isolation and social anxiety, decreasing our ability to having meaningful human connections in our life and build truly personal, real-life relationships (McGreavy, 2012). It is true that smartphones foster greater communication and connectivity, but there are also downsides, negatives and precautions that need to be taking into consideration.
Smartphones do appear to be the way of the future. Even as the recession hit a high back in 2009, smartphone sales increased (Agger, 2011). We have come to look on smartphone devices, apps and instant deliverables as a way to improve our way of life. This almost seems to indicate that society today is evolving around smartphones and not the other way around. As a result of smartphone popularity, businesses, colleges, developers of websites and social media have all had to give considerable attention to the web usability of smartphones when designing their sites. Websites have to be much more streamlined in terms of design, content and navigation. Chances are smartphones will continue to be the primary mechanism by which the public will interact with these sites, so there is risk in losing vast numbers of potential visitors if proper adoptions are not considered.
Psychologists do warn that we may be opening a Pandora’s Box of constant intrusions into our personal worlds and eventually find ourselves feeling the need to always be connected and accessible — never allowed downtown to get back to life offline and enjoy real life interactions with family, friends, neighbors and the communities we live in. While there are some dangers involved with being too engrossed in a good thing, smartphones offer many benefits that seem to outweigh the negatives. Smartphones are advancing at a rapid rate and will most likely continue to do so until the next technological breakthrough.
Agger, B. (2011). iTime: Labor and life in a smartphone era. Time & Society, 20(1), 119-136. doi:10.1177/0961463X10380730
Berman, D.K. (2013, May). Why Aren’t Smartphones Making Us More Productive?. Wall Street Journal – Eastern Edition. pp. B1-B2.
ExactTarget. (2011). Mobile Dependence Day, New Research finds reliance on smartphone driving changes in consumers’ purchase habits. Retrieved May 5, 2013 from http://www.exacttarget.com/company/news-and-press-releases/viewstory/smid/756/ArticleID/80.aspx.
Fenske, S. (2013). Distributing Healthcare. Medical Design Technology, 17(3), 6.
McGreavy, J. (2012). Always Connected, But Always Distracted. InformationWeek, (1354), 8.
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