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Study reveals people use their smartphones much more than they think

Interestingly enough, there’s an app for cutting back on screen time

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Photo (c) Slphotography - Getty Images
It doesn’t come as a surprise, but a new study says people are on their phone for 5 hours and 42 minutes a day on average. What is more of a surprise is that most of us think we spend considerably less time — two whole hours — per day glued to our phones.

To measure people’s awareness of their phone use, game developer Solitaired recently surveyed 667 iPhone users, asking them to guess how much time they spend on their phones, then had them send documentation of their actual usage data, courtesy of their iOS Screen Time dashboards.

I love you, TikTok

What’s behind our compulsion? If you guessed social media, you’re right. The ever-changing world of TikTok, Facebook, Twitter, and their competitors sucks the average user in for 1 hour and 23 minutes every single day. According to the study’s respondents, the apps we use for the longest periods are TikTok and Twitter, both tied for an average of 1.6 hours per day.

Are we that clueless?

In addition to asking about the total time people spend on their phones each day, the study queried people about which apps they think they use most — the keyword there is “think.” 

More than half of those surveyed (52%) failed to accurately guess which app they use the most. “This is striking data that indicates how habituated and unconscious we are with respect to much of our phone use,” game developer Solitaired’s Neal T. wrote in an overview of the study’s results.

Step away from the phone

Smartphone addiction is real. Other studies have said the compulsion affects nearly 40% of college students, and researchers say it can be detrimental to sleep and mental health. Another study suggested that the fear of being away from your phone could be linked to obsessive compulsion.

In confirming these other studies, Solitaired asked people if they’ve tried to cut back on their phone time and if their phone use has ever created stress in a personal relationship. 

More than half of the people surveyed (53%) said they've tried to cut back since the beginning of the pandemic. One in three say they’ve been unsuccessful, and another 36% of people say their phone use has caused tension in a relationship.

“Both of these data points reflect how phone use can become unhealthy,” Neal said. “Thirty-six percent may not sound like a lot, but if you consider how there are 290 million smartphone users in the US, that means more than 100 million people have experienced tension in a relationship related to phone use.”

Is there a way to cut back?

If you think you’re giving Facebook or TikTok too much time or that you wake up in the middle of the night to your arm making an uncontrollable scrolling motion, there might be a solution.

“We highly recommend that people use the tools that are now available on phones, to keep an eye on daily and weekly habits,” Solitaired concluded in the study’s overview.

ConsumerAffairs did a review of five apps to help you avoid social media and other online distractions. One of those apps is Think, an app that might give you the push to say goodbye to the bombardment of multiple chat boxes and open windows. “This app lets you pick one window to focus on; the rest of the screen will be darkened. For those who believe multitasking isn't all it's cracked up to be, this could be a handy app,” wrote ConsumerAffairs' Sarah Young. “Think says it can help you ‘get back to thinking’ by allowing you to focus.”

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