Pew study shows Americans use their mobile devices to connect and research
Americans are using their smartphones to text their friends, send photos to their friends, and look up information on the internet. Doesn't sound like we are becoming more isolated or more stupid from using a smartphone.
Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project did a survey this spring of over 2,000 American adults, asking about how and why they used their mobile devices. The phone survey revealed that the two most popular activities for both smartphone and feature phone users were texting and sending pictures to friends. The third most popular activity was accessing the internet to look up information on the spot, and that activity was differentiated among smartphone users (84%) and feature phone users (15%).
The first two activities would counter the argument that constant access to a communication device and the internet is making people as a whole more alienated, less connected and inclined to ignore the world around them. While some folks may be running into lamp posts while looking down at their cell phone, the activity that is driving them is communication with another human being. While they may not be as engaged as they used to be in walking down the street, one can clearly make the argument that the primary activity they are driven to do is to connect with other people. Sending a text is communication; sending a photo is communication.
Score one against the mobile device alienation camp.
The teachable moment
What I found most telling was the #3 activity: looking up information real time on the internet. I find this the best habit I've picked up from having a smart phone. Over the past few months, I've looked up the following in the course of casual conversation:
- What year Pat Benatar recorded Heartbreaker
- A photo of a goat
- What a cheese press is and how to make one
- When the Victoria Clipper leaves
- How champagne is made and designated as "champagne"
- The population of Seattle (over 600K, BTW)
Lazy and stupid? Hardly. Having the information at one's fingertips does provide what in the pedagogical world we called "the teachable moment." By way of background information, I spent two years teaching French at the University of Texas at Austin and five years thereafter developing French textbooks for Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
And as any teacher will tell you, the act of looking something up oneself makes that bit of information more likely to be retained. Instead of wondering what the facts are during conversation or relying on the other conversant to supply them, now mobile device users can actively look up the information themselves and get the facts immediately. And what's fascinating is that the act of looking up the information oneself makes the user more inclined to embed and recall that information at a later date, versus passively absorbing the information through lecture or conversation. The fact that mobile device users now take the time to look up data means they are more inclined to absorb the information and use it later.
In short, stuff we look up ourselves in a relevant context is more likely to be retained.
Score one against the "internet makes us stupider" camp.
What have your experiences been? Do you feel more informed from having instant access to information? Or do you feel more alienated when others text during live social interactions?