- 1 Introduction
- 2 Relevant Social Groups
- 3 Social Perceptions
- 4 Psychology of Connectivity
- 5 Conclusion
- 6 References
Compulsive connectivity is the psychological need to have access to communications media whether it be text messaging, phone calls, or the mobile web. This is inclusive of all connective mediums such as computers, laptops, and tablets. To bring this chapter to a manageable scale, the scope has been narrowed down to smartphones. This chapter analyzes the relevant social groups, the social perceptions, and the psychology of compulsive connectivity in regards to the smartphone.
Relevant Social Groups
Application developers (colloquially app developers) have created ways for society to stay constantly connected by extending social networking to the mobile frontier. By doing so, users of applications such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ are able to partake in virtual communities, converse with friends and family, and even upload and instantly share media while on the go. Application developers have also enabled ways to stream music (Pandora, Spotify), watch movies (Netflix), play mobile games (Angry Birds), download navigational directions (Google Maps, Mapquest), and complete common weekly activities such as going to the bank (mobile banking). Statistics show that from 2010 to 2011, the average number of applications on a smartphone in countries such as Australia, France, Germany, Switzerland, Taiwan, United Kingdom, and the United States of America has shown a trending increase.
Retailers and Mobile Commerce
Analogous to mobile banking replacing the physical act of going to the bank, retail shopping has also become a prevalent compulsively connected activity (mobile commerce). According to comScore, 38% of smartphone owners have used their phone to make at least one purchase. To better serve and entice potential customers, brick and mortar stores such as Best Buy and Walmart have even created explicit mobile versions of their websites, such as the figure to the right, that are often simpler to navigate with touch-friendly links. Additional mobile website features include using a phone's GPS coordinates to locate the nearest store and being able to order for in-store pickup.
Smartphone manufacturers are also benefitting, and in turn perpetuating, compulsive connectivity. Each year Apple, Samsung, Nokia, and LG release new smartphones. By introducing new hardware such as a faster CPU, more RAM, or even LTE connectivity, smartphone manufacturers are able to advertise their new products as being superior to previous generations. This, in turn, entices users in that they are able to check their social networks more frequently, stream a movie without buffering, multitask more efficiently, or even upload their photos faster. This trend toward compulsive connectivity fueled 1.39 billion phone shipments in 2010 with an increase to 1.55 billion in 2011.
Wireless providers such as Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint Nextel, and T-Mobile are another social group benefitting from compulsive connectivity. From 1997 to 2012, subscriber connections rose from 48.7 million to 321.7 million and text messages sent vastly increased from 1.2 million to 184.3 billion. Additionally, the advent of wireless data through cellular communication became the main catalyst for mobile web consumption. Cellular data was essentially nonexistent in 1997, but 15 years later it has become a 68 billion dollar industry. Such profits have lead to a change in advertising schemes – wireless providers moving from call quality, such as Verizon’s "Can you hear me now" slogan, to data coverage maps, LTE speeds, and truly unlimited data plans.
The social perceptions of the mobile phone have varied greatly over the course of its existence. Because cellular phones and smart phones have only recently been introduced, the social perceptions regarding them continue to evolve. Prior to use, many regarded mobile phones as a tool to be used for security/safety, business, or financial purposes. People would purchase mobile phones as an emergency line for the road or as a tether between parent and child. Phones were generally sought after in business to allow mobile communication. Fiscally, cellular phones offered competitive options for long distance calls.
This utilitarian perception has generally changed to one of more sociable and leisurely use. “Micro-coordination,” allows phone owners to refine schedules with others immediately and as necessary. Survey data has shown some of the most prominent uses of smart phones are for accessing entertainment or social networks. Further, smart phones users regarded the device as more important than other media devices, even 26% of users determining smartphones were more important than computers. The smartphone has become an essential all-purpose utility for socializing, entertainment, and organization.
There is a growing perception that smart phones are distracting and detach the owners from their environment. This perception is acknowledged by popular media, like this Windows commercial. Theaters actively dissuade phone usage during movies, requesting audience members not use their phones or text during films. Some theaters are even adopting strict no phone policies. Phone use at the dinner table or social events is widely considered rude. The phone stack game is another example of how people are making active efforts to combat compulsive connectivity. All participants place their phones into a stack and the first person to cave and check their phone pays for the meal. This socially engineered game clearly paints compulsion in a negative light as the loser is punished for submitting to it. More detailed information on similar expectations can be found on the chapter Cell Phones versus Face-to-Face Interaction.
Distracted driving due to phone use is another major topic, with more detailed information on its own Lentis chapter.
The recent internet connectivity of phones has lead to new concerns of privacy. Service providers and apps can take IP session information, IP destination information, text message details and content, internet access frequency, and even physical location. Some features are implemented with little user awareness, such as geotagging. This feature embeds location information into photos taken with the smartphone camera. Groups like Icanstalku.com have been formed to raise awareness of such practices.
Phones are also perceived as a dependency. The persistent and mobile connectivity offered by smart phones a greater degree of internet penetration. Over 50% of surveyed owners claimed to have multiple daily online sessions on their phones and 60% made social network visits on a daily basis. There are a growing percentage of people who have daily online sessions everyday of the week. 90% of owners never leave their homes without their phones. Most users even reported to use their smartphones parallel with other activities.
In spite of the unfavorable perceptions, smartphones use is ever pervasive. Over 50% of owners still claim to use their phones in restaurants and social gatherings, and over 30% use their phones while watching movies. Connective capability is altering the relationship between the phone and its owners. The common uses and social perceptions of the smartphone suggest a psychological compulsion towards connectivity rather than the phone itself.
Psychology of Connectivity
With the rise of smartphone users and the appearance of multi-functional phones, smartphone users are becoming more cell phone dependent. Psychological discoveries such as instant gratification, classical conditioning, and most recently checking habit, all drive users to keep connected with their smartphones.
Is it Addiction?
About 73% of smartphone users experience the symptoms of Nomophobia. Smartphones connect users to social networks so users feel nervous and helpless when smartphones are lost. Presently, most people who own smartphones have their contacts saved to the phone and do not necessarily memorize the contacts. Unless the user saves his/her contacts, he/she almost always ends up creating a facebook to retrieve lost contacts. Even losing smartphones can also reinforce constant and more connectivity.
Smartphones are known to be psychoactive, as they are used to relieve stress through tasks such as gaming, shopping, and gambling. So smartphones can actually be used as an outlet for other addictions. Smartphone users who check their phones constantly exhibit a anti-social behavior where the communication is not physical but now digital. Smartphones mainly use negative reinforcement to achieve this stress relaxation, giving the user something to do without actually fixing the situation. For example, smartphone users who are waiting for a recent exam grade that they think they did bad on and refreshing the page constantly for minutes would not likely fix the situation, but it would give the user something to do. However, researchers mostly view compulsive connectivity as a dysfunction and not necessarily an addiction. The emergence of multi-functional smartphones has required the researchers to conduct more research into which programs the users are actually checking. 
Although compulsive connectivity is not an addiction, smartphone users still check their phones too often in something called a checking habit where users check their phones for about 30 seconds at a time at ten minute intervals. This behavior is similar to classical conditioning developed by Ivan Pavlov, with the reward coming in the form of information, interactions, or awareness to help the user avoid boredom. Checking habit is just an attempt to avoid concentrating on a task and make the user look like he/she is doing something. A common pattern by smartphone users exhibiting checking behavior is to visit the App market to see if new applications were available since their last visit. Once this trend is understood, designers of the App market could make the search process easier to increase the frequency of application download and revenue for App developers.
Checking habit can be explained with the concept of instant gratification. With a world of information at the palm of the user's hand, users are able to instantly find items of curiosity ranging from new emails to cooking recipes. Checking smartphones periodically allows the user to constantly fulfill their thirst for knowledge and curiosity. However, Walter Mischel's marshmellow experiment suggests that the users should show discipline and hold off on instant gratification because those who show discipline are more successful in the future.
Compulsive connectivity has become such an acknowledged idea that a Singaporean company has started making social rehabilitation kits for avid smartphone users . The tool kit offers notes to handwrite Tweets, Facebook "like" stickers, "Instaglasses", and many more ways to satisfy the needs of a smartphone user without actually using one.
Psychological constructs such as nomophobia, checking habit, and instant gratification fuel a desire to be constantly connected; whether it be socially, financially, curiosity, or boredom, the ever-increasing use of mobile technology, perpetuated by app developers, retailers, cell phone manufacturers, and wireless providers, has turned compulsive connectivity into a socio-technical phenomenon.
Over half of the US mobile phone market now consists of smartphones. The overwhelming success of the smartphone market can be attributed to an awareness of the social perceptions and psychology regarding compulsive connectivity. Users have a changing perception of technology and developers cater to them. Compulsive connectivity is an unforeseen side effect of technological innovation. Future editors of compulsive connectivity should focus more on the connectivity through the use of laptops and tablets. An expansion of the addiction section of psychology could also be added when more research is conducted on compulsive connectivity.
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