Smartphone Use Ballooning To 5 Hours A Day, Study Finds

Average smartphone use is up to five hours per day, according to one study. What are we sacrificing to use our mobile devices that much?

David Wagner, Executive Editor, Community & IT Life

November 4, 2015

4 Min Read
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If you find yourself asking "Where does my time go?" the answer might be your smartphone.

A small study from Lancaster University in the United Kingdom indicates that we may use our smartphones about twice as much as we think we do. Study participants used their mobile devices more than 84 times per day for a total of about five hours.

The study asked 29 participants (an admittedly small sample size) aged 18 to 33 to allow an app to be installed on their Android-based smartphones to measure real usage of the device. The app measured how often the phones were accessed, for how long, and what they were being used for. The goal was to compare self-reported smartphone usage with "real" data. Participants estimated their phone usage at about half of what it actually was in terms of frequency of use and duration.

The study lasted two weeks, and all participants were faculty or students at the University of Lincoln in the UK. Six of the original 29 partcipants were dropped from the study's conclusions for various reasons.

The results appeared Oct. 28 in the journal PLOS ONE in an article titled "Beyond Self-Report: Tools to Compare Estimated and Real-World Smartphone Use."

The median number of times study participants looked at their smartphones for at least 10 seconds was 84. More than half of those engagements lasted less than 30 seconds, and total median usage was 5.05 hours per day.

Five hours? If we assume most people get eight hours of sleep a night (which sadly we know they often get less) and work for eight hours a day (which sadly we know they usually work more than that on weekdays), add that five hours of phone usage and that leaves three hours of our day for eating, talking to people, and generally living a life.

Is there time for everything?

It doesn't look like it. According to a US Bureau of Labor Statistics study, on an average day 83% of women and 65% of men spend some time doing household chores such as housework, cooking, lawn care, or financial and other household management. Adults living in households with children under age 6 spend an average of two hours per day providing primary childcare, while those living in homes with children aged 6-17 spend about 49 minutes per day engaged in childcare. Then there's the 2.8 hours the average person spends watching TV every day, and the 43 minutes per day the average person spends socializing such as visiting with friends or attending or hosting social events. And that's not even counting other leisure activities, including excercising or reading for personal enjoyment.

Granted, some of our smartphone use is during otherwise "down" time -- commuting, for example -- but the longest duration of usage, according to the study, took place during the night, presumably after work. It is starting to look like smartphone time is taking time from either our work, our family, or our sleep.

[ And if you want to stay healthy, don't cut sleep. Read How IT Workers Can Survive Cold and Flu Season. ]

And of course, some smartphone time is work time, and some of it passes for what we call family time (texting your mom or interacting with friends on social media). But it is increasingly clear smartphone time is infringing on "life" time, and we may not even realize it. If our reported smartphone use is half of what we think it is, that's 2.5 hours per day we don't even realize we're spending with these devices.

What would you do if you had 2.5 hours back in your life every day? Sleep? Take care of your house? Take the kids to a movie? Check your phone usage. You may find the extra hours are right there for the taking.

About the Author(s)

David Wagner

Executive Editor, Community & IT Life

David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, leadership, and innovation. He has also been a freelance writer for many top consulting firms and academics in the business and technology sectors. Born in Silver Spring, Md., he grew up doodling on the back of used punch cards from the data center his father ran for over 25 years. In his spare time, he loses golf balls (and occasionally puts one in a hole), posts too often on Facebook, and teaches his two kids to take the zombie apocalypse just a little too seriously. 

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