Walk into a crowded restaurant and at a crowded table, a bunch of 20-somethings sit quietly, except for the tapping of keys on their smartphone. Sitting two feet from their closest friend, they’re not talking sports, politics, or religion, but rather texting a co-worker or Facebooking an update of their latest choice of beverage.
While it’s becoming popular for friends to now put their phones in the centre of the table, forcing the first person to check-in to pick up the cheque, it’s hardly the norm.
A trip to Whonnock Lake, along the eastern border of Maple Ridge, only reinforces the point.
A quick scan of the beach reveals a number of sun worshippers ignoring the natural beauty that surrounds them to snaps photos, check messages and select their favourite playlist. Amid the kids frolicking in the water or building sand castles on the shoreline, look hard enough and you’ll notice that smartphones pervade the landscape.
Twelve-year-old Kassie Urquhart lays facedown on her towel, shielding her eyes from the sun as she frantically types a message on Facebook. Visiting from Kelowna, Urquhart says she can live without her phone, but rarely does.
“I could go without it, but sometimes I just get bored,” she says.
With more than 900 friends on Facebook, Urquhart is the perfect example of the new age of social media. It’s hard enough maintaining a personal relationship with more than a handful of people at any given time in your life, let alone 900. But the term friend has taken on a new meaning thanks to Facebook.
“I feel like there might be stuff I might be missing,” she explains. “I just feel more complete with my phone. When it dies, I don’t know what to do.”
Urquhart is not alone in her need to stay connected.
Her uncle, Andrew Wieland, relaxes on the sand a few feet from his niece. He says the only reason he’s not on his phone is because his battery died on his way to the beach.
While he doesn’t use social media sites, Wieland, who works in construction, keeps his phone on whenever he can because he says it’s vital for his work.
“It’s important for me if someone needs to get a hold of me. If they can’t, they can get upset. It’s just the way the world is now.”
He can vividly remember working in construction in the 1980s, when a new tool showed up on the worksite. The big, bulky mobile phones weighed close to a kilo and ushered in a new way of doing business, recalls Wieland.
“It changed everything.”
While Wieland says he keeps constantly connected for his work, come holidays he purposely seeks out spots where there is no cell phone coverage. He says it’s important to be able to disconnect and truly let go.
His niece, however, is of a different mind frame.
“I went camping with friends recently and there was no cell phone service, so we were walking around with our phones up in the air, looking for coverage,” Urquhart admits.
She’s not alone.
A recent poll by Insights West revels 64 per cent of B.C. adults own a smartphone, using it an average of 1.7 hours a day and have an average of 27 apps.
The survey says 18 per cent of B.C. smartphone owners consider themselves strongly addicted to the device. While most say it’s manageable, 43 per cent call it “very important” to their lives.
The survey also highlights not only ownership, but the frequency to which we’ve become attached to the small, handheld devices. It states 62 per cent of smartphone owners log on at least hourly and a compulsive six per cent check it more often than every 10 minutes.
Self-described addicts spend an average 2.5 hours a day actively using their phones, the poll found.
Insights West president Steve Mossop says the heavy usage shows how profoundly the devices have transformed daily life and quickly become pervasive.
“Look at kids and how glued they are to their devices and some of us adults as well,” Mossop said. “It has implications all around, from driving while you’re texting, to social relationships, to impacts on other things you do with your time, like exercise, TV watching and newspaper readership.”
According to the poll, more than three-quarters of smartphone owners said that if they left home for the day without their device they’d go home and get it.
Among adults age 18-34, smartphone ownership rate climbs to 86 per cent.
When asked what they would trade in order to avoid giving up their smartphone for three days, 70 per cent of the 18-34 crowd would rather give up Facebook, while 25 per cent would give up computer Internet access. For those in the prime of their lives, 25 per cent said they’d rather be stood up for a date. A mere 18 per cent of younger users would give up their device ahead of those alternatives, compared to 26 per cent of users aged 35-54, and 57 per cent of those 55 and up.
Back on the beach in Whonnock, Corrie Vande Burgt sits in her beach chair, feet buried in the sand as she reads a magazine. The Abbotsford mother of three boys, ages four, eight, and 10, reveals she’s the exception to the rule.
“I don’t even own a cell phone,” admitting it’s a conscious decision. “If people want to get ahold of me, they’ll find a way.”
She believes not having a cell phone allows her to focus more attention on her family. She feels it’s important to be “present” when on outings to places like the beach or the park.
“We get enough Internet time at home. It’s not as if I am missing anything. I find if I was on a phone, then there’s just some other area that would be neglected,” says Vande Burgt. “Being old-school is OK with me. I don’t have to follow the trends.”
But just 10 feet to her right, Renata Thomson of Maple Ridge snaps a shot of herself with her nephew. It’s a shot she quickly shares with her sister.
Being a nurse, she’s on-call, so that necessitates that Thompson keep her phone on while enjoying the cloudless skies and warm water at Whonnock Lake. But for her, having a family is why she keeps constantly connected.
“My daughter drives now, so it’s a big deal to be able to stay connected,” she says.
Thomson says her 17-year old daughter Brooke recently went out and ended up in an area that had no cell phone coverage. Like any concerned parent, she found herself slightly anxious waiting for her daughter’s safe arrival home.
“It’s just nice to be able to get a hold of them,” she says.
While sharing photos on Instagram, Facebooking your latest recipe or Tweeting responses to your favourite musician are all rising trends with smartphones, it’s Thompson’s desire to be able to keep in touch with her daughter that most people use the devices for.
According to the Insight West poll, making phone calls remained the top smartphone use, just ahead of texting. But email, searching for information, taking or sharing photos, checking the weather, researching products or services and using map apps to get directions were also among the most common uses.
The pervasive nature of smartphones being constantly connected is a relatively new trend. The iPhone was introduced a mere six years ago. To date, Apple estimates they have sold more than 500 million iPhones, iPads and iPods.
Addiction to the Internet is now being seriously studied by universities around the world. Research from the University of Bonn, in Germany, is reporting that problematic internet users possess a gene mutation comparable to one found in nicotine addicts.
But no doubt that anyone who might be suffering from an Internet addiction can rest assured there’s an app for that.