In the fourth quarter of 2010, smartphone shipments increased by 87% versus the year prior — and for the first time, outsold personal computers. The reasons for this growth were simple: Smartphones were significantly cheaper than personal computers so they were more accessible to the masses, and these devices could be used more easily on the street.
Consumer time spent on mobile devices caught the entire digital publishing industry off guard because the rate at which consumers spend time on their smartphones is driven by ramped-up addiction.
It’s not mobile video or games driving this consumer addiction. Those content offerings are like having too many beers. They make you stupid and then sleepy. It’s not Facebook, Twitter and Instagram either. Those sites are like smoking way too much pot. Constantly reading them make you feel bad about yourself — and yet you have a really hard time stopping yourself from looking at them.
The crack is texting and Snapchat. These two forms of mobile communication feed a hyper and constant physical need to connect, subconsciously inducing teenagers and adults to reach for their phones in a subtle panic every two minutes.
As publishers, advertisers and tech platforms, aren’t we trading on this addiction? And should that matter to us? Or should we run our mobile campaigns, and pay and collect our invoices — and, if we feel any guilt, just point our fingers at the hardware manufacturers and the carriers as the culprits in this societal collapse of human behavior?
Should we point our fingers at the parents so lost in their own mobile devices they have lost control of their teenage children who are on their phones constantly, everywhere they go?
Should we point our fingers at people at the gym on a machine we want to use, working out their thumbs instead of their bodies, while we wait for them to recognize they have lost their minds?
Should we point our fingers at our bosses, who sit in front of us for our weekly one-on-ones while their eyes and fingers dart frantically back to their device, splintering the attention they scheduled for us into pieces?
Should we point our fingers at our friends and family who, while spending time with us, emotionally leave to digitally spend time with others — while, like an abandoned child, we sit and wait for them to return?
Should we point our fingers at the sickeningly endless number of drivers who think their communication is more important than the lives of those who will be killed by their pompous ignorance?
The answer to all of these questions is no.
We must instead point a finger at ourselves, and become missionaries set on reversing what appears to be an irreversible trend. We need to stop reaching for our phones when the itch to do so hits. We need to turn off our phones when we get into our cars, and turn them back on only when we arrive. We must go back to a time when phones were picked up because someone was calling. We need to help dig our family, our friends and our coworkers out from the ditches of addiction, back into the world of being present.
Later this year, I will have the chance to do something I have never done before: be a parent. While there are a thousand things I should be worried about, what keeps me up at night is figuring out how to prevent my child from becoming an addict long before he or she learns about drugs.