The shocking fault in ‘smartphone by default.’
A recent British study has revealed some important – and worrying – aspects of people relying on smartphones for almost all their Internet needs. Ofcom, the UK regulator, conducted a series of interviews with people who they call “smartphone by default.” This is a surprisingly large group in the UK, and growing fast: 16% of UK adults rely solely on devices such as smartphones and tablets for online access in 2015, up from 6% the year before!
There are two broad groups of people who are smartphone by default: ‘smartphone by choice’ and ‘smartphone by circumstance.’ The critical finding from the study is that those who CHOSE to rely mainly on smartphones are doing fine…but those who use smartphones because they can’t afford other options are experiencing a widening digital divide, having trouble doing certain important tasks, and becoming “de-skilled.”
I know some smart people who choose to use smartphones almost all the time. They tend to be older, have good incomes, be technology early adopters, and generally review the work other people do rather than create a lot of content themselves. Most are businesspeople who like being able to do their job from a single, ultra-portable device. At times, they can even be kind of smug about being able to work without a laptop – they seem to view those who still need a PC as somehow less evolved, like they still live in trees and have a tail or something. 🙂
The UK study confirms something that I have long noticed about ‘smartphone by choice’ people: they almost always have (or have access to) a computer that they can use when they need it. They may be smartphone almost all the time, but according to Carl in Belfast:
“It’s impossible to talk to my accountant and deal with all the spreadsheets without going onto a laptop computer. It just needs the slightly bigger screen to properly deal with the numbers on the spreadsheet and send something over to him.”
According to the study, “Almost all participants experienced moments when they felt unable to complete a necessary task on their smartphone and needed access to another device – most often a computer or laptop with a bigger screen, keyboard and mouse.”
Those who were ‘smartphone by circumstance’ did not usually have access to their own computer, and had to borrow one, travel for over an hour to use one, or try to find a public access PC, such as at libraries or community centres.
While playing games, messaging, or social media all work well on the smartphone, study participants mentioned that doing their finances, researching health issues, doing schoolwork, dealing with government and (especially) applying for jobs and writing CVs all required access to a PC, and barriers around access, privacy, time limits or travel time were significant problems for them.
But the single biggest problem the survey identified was around digital skills. Those who were smartphone by circumstance had very low typing skills, couldn’t use office productivity software well, and were poor at digital file management. They were either (if young) failing to acquire these skills, or (in the case of some older participants) actually losing skills they once had.
One day, no one will need to know how to type: we will just talk to our devices and they will transcribe accurately. One day, no one will need to know how use word processing or spreadsheet programs.
But that day isn’t today, and it isn’t going to be 2020 or even 2030. For the next decade or two, not being able to use a keyboard or productivity software properly will be a significant disadvantage in the workplace.
Would YOU hire someone in your office who can’t type, use a mouse, find a file, or know how to use a word processor or spreadsheet program?