Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

A thought has been increasingly on my mind: smartphones have become as much about comfort as they have convenience. I was prompted to think about this further when I realized that I couldn’t recall the last time I waited for an elevator without looking at my phone.

I’m someone who carries his phone around like a toddler with a fuzzy blanket (ie: comfort object). I’m not really social media obsessed, but I think I’ve trained myself to need more noise from a variety of different sources. There are plenty of people who aren’t like this, so I’m not intending to make any sweeping generalizations about society becoming smartphone-dependant robots. In fact, please keep using them so that I still have a job (these observations about context are important to consider when designing digital experiences). However, if you relate to anything below, then maybe it’s worth a second thought from your side as well.

This is a relatively normal day for me. Anything sound familiar?

  • I use my phone as an alarm in the morning.
  • Then, I use it to check my work and personal email.
  • After I leave the house, I use it to check the status of the train.
  • On my commute, I use it to listen to podcasts.
  • Once at work, I temporarily put the phone down and move over to my laptop.
  • Although I often try to close my laptop in meetings, I have Slack on my phone, so every little buzz becomes an invitation to peek in my pocket.
  • Around lunchtime, I check the news on my phone while I wait for my food at the cafe.
  • If I have off-site meetings or am traveling, I use it to get a ride. (I’m checking emails the whole time I’m in the car…that is, until it makes me car sick.)
  • Sometimes there will be a call I need to join while in transit to another meeting, so I’m the guy that paces back and forth in the hallway holding the little Apple earbuds mic up to my mouth like it somehow makes a difference. Woah, using a phone as a phone. Weird.
  • In client meetings, the phone goes away, but deep inside I feel so disconnected. That’s ok — I’m usually talking or giving a presentation, so my fear of silence quickly dissipates.
  • After the meeting and getting back in a cab, I release the flood of emails.
  • If I’m headed to the airport, then I scramble to find my airline account password so that I can log into the app to check in for my flight.
  • I use my phone to get my boarding pass and go through security.
  • After my 30-minute free snail-speed Boingo wifi session ends, I get my phone out so that I can tether it to my laptop.
  • I almost forgot — I need to download some music for offline listening. Maybe a few podcasts too. It is, after all, a whole two hours on the plane.
  • Boarding group 6 gets called and I go up to the jet bridge to scan my boarding pass. The screen goes dark when I flip it over. “I swear it was there a second ago.” [gate agent and line of people behind me not amused]
  • Check seat number because I forgot it after getting flustered at the gate.
  • Check it again because I got distracted by a text and forgot what I was originally doing.
  • On the plane — send hug emoji and “I love you” text to my wife.
  • Flip on airplane mode and put earbuds in.
  • Fall asleep after one minute and forty-two seconds of a podcast.
  • Wake up somewhere in the air over Pennsylvania and re-start the podcast.
  • Take out the laptop to get a little work done.
  • Get frustrated by how small the tray tables have gotten, close the laptop and re-start the podcast because I wasn’t really paying attention.
  • Fall asleep again.
  • Wake up at landing. Ow, my neck hurts.
  • Turn off airplane mode.
  • Open the email floodgates.
  • Text my wife, “Just landed!”
  • Wait in my seat quietly while, for some reason, everyone has to rush to get their bags from the overhead bins so that they can be the first to stand in line to exit the aircraft.
  • Go to train. Re-start podcast for the third time while on the train.
  • Home.
  • Wake up. Can’t sleep. Finish podcast.
  • Wake up to the alarm on my phone, earbuds still in my ears.

Now, what’s my point? It’s not that we shouldn’t use smartphones or even that they shouldn’t be something we rely on as a regular fixture in our lives. My point is that we should be cognizant of the way technology shapes our thinking and behavior (myself very much included). I’m trying to become more aware of my behaviors and the motivations behind them. If you work in any form of marketing, this type of analysis is especially beneficial.

My new litmus test: am I missing an opportunity to have a real human interaction, be more productive, or enjoy something in the physical world around me because of my phone? If yes, then I put it away because I’m probably acting like the toddler with the comfort object. If not, then keep typing. And another rule: no phones at meals. Food and conversation are too good to be ruined by a screen.

Here’s a challenge: catalog your day and how you use technology. It’s interesting (and kind of funny) to see how much of your technology use may be motivated by comfort rather than convenience or productivity.