31st Aug 2018

Are Seniors More Addicted to Their Smartphones Than Their Grandkids?


There have been countless articles and news stories about how kids these days are completely addicted to their smartphones. Adults, particularly the older generation, have found this easy to believe. You need only to look around the average public place to see kids glued to their devices.

But, take a closer look, and you might notice that kids aren’t the only ones obsessed with texting, Facebooking, and YouTube-ing. In fact, some studies are now revealing that it’s another demographic that may be most addicted to devices: seniors.

We Always Thought it Was Kids and Millennials

There’s plenty of evidence that young people are into their phones. Millennials in particular get a bad rap when it comes to smartphone use. Articles decry the millennial generation as spearheading the “selfie culture,” and interacting with their phones more than they do with friends and loved ones.

But perhaps it isn’t just kids and millennials who are creating a “generation of loneliness.” Despite the evidence that, yes, young people are heavy smartphone users, there is ample support for the idea that other demographics are phone-obsessed too.

Some research shows that it’s the senior generation that is most addicted to using their mobile phones.

One study found that older individuals were most likely to take out their devices at the dinner table. The same study discovered that seniors (and middle-aged people) spent more time overall on every type of device. Even middle-agers are guilty. The study found that 35 to 49-year olds used social media 40 minutes more weekly compared with 18 to 34-year olds (aka millennials).

Social media statistics show similar trends. Currently, social media giant Facebook is actually losing its younger users, but the over-55’s are arriving in droves. In 2018, 500,000 new users over the age of 55 were expected to join Facebook. If this does occur, by year’s end the 55-65+ demographic will become the second largest demographic on the platform, reaching approximately 6.4 million users strong.

What Seniors are Doing on Their Phones

Seniors are active on Facebook, in particular. For many, this seems to be a prime way to connect with their children and grandchildren. The photos and updates on Facebook allow them to keep up-to-date with the lives of their family members. As well, Facebook is a place where it’s easy to access other entertainment and news right from the feed. With a fairly user-friendly interface (and billions of users) it’s not surprising that Facebook would be attractive to the older generation.

Gaming is another common activity for seniors. Smartphones have a seemingly endless number of apps, and many of these are addictive games, with everything from word games to Candy Crush and more. These are fun for every age group, but perhaps are more novel to seniors, who did not grow up with the Internet and devices as their grandkids have.

It might seem surprising to think that seniors are equally as enthralled with their smart devices as their grandchildren or even their children. This generation was decidedly slower to adopt the latest technology, but as the Internet has grown and spread to near-ubiquity, almost everyone today has some sort of smartphone. With this more frequent usage comes the threat of over-usage, but the world is becoming wise to the issue, even for older folks. AARP, a leading organisation for senior citizens in the United States, publishes a guide to curing smartphone addiction. Clearly, there’s a real concern about using devices wisely---at every age.

Why We’re Addicted to Devices

Why do we get so captivated by our phones? Why is it difficult to put them down, to tear our eyes away? How has the screen become more interesting to us than real life?

These are tough questions, but there’s science behind the answers.

When we interact with something new and exciting, we get a jolt of dopamine in our brain. This feels good and we become trained to crave it again and again. The Internet, and its mobile devices, provide us with that very sensation. Each time you check to find a new email or hear the sound of a notification appearing, your brain gets a rush. Dr. David Greenfield, one of the world’s foremost experts in Internet addiction says “the smartphone is the world's smallest slot machine.” It produces an endless supply of novel elements to interact with, and it seems we keep on going back just to see what we’ll get. With the speed of technology, we can get it immediately, too, which only feeds our addiction.

The Problems With Smartphone Addiction

Addiction is a word that has a certain stigma attached to it. We generally have a negative reaction to the term, but in the case of smartphones, it may not be the most appropriate term. Perhaps we’re not truly addicted to our devices but are merely fanatical about them.

Few can deny that any sort of device overuse is problematic, but research demonstrates exactly how problematic it can be, and reminds us why it’s so vital to find a balance with technology in our daily lives.

Lowered quality of life

Extensive research suggests that smartphone addiction can result in problems emotional, social, and even physical. Taken together, it’s not a stretch to see that these issues could lead to an overall decreased quality of life.

Social media in particular can have negative impacts. A study in the American Journal of Epidemiology showed that increased activity on Facebook correlated with lower well-being, especially in adults. We all love getting “likes” and receiving comments on our updates, but constantly updating your feed or spending too much time browsing can make us dependent on that validation. Plus, it’s far too easy to compare our own lives with the airbrushed perfection we often see on social media, and then grow dissatisfied. We’re looking to the “highlight reels” of others to determine our own worth. This can be emotionally damaging.

Loneliness or social problems

Humans are social creatures. Connecting with others is critical to our wellbeing. While social media and the Internet are a form of connection, there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction. Today, smartphone users frequently move their attention from the people around them to check their devices. This is known as “technoference,” and it can have lasting negative impacts on relationships and family life.

For senior adults, who may live alone or be more isolated than younger generations, it is especially important to continue to engage in in-person social interaction with others.

Safety issues

Sadly, our smartphone habits can pose a real danger to us.

Distracted driving accounts for an increasing number of automobile accidents around the world. While many places have made using a phone while driving illegal, an alarming number of people still check messages or even send texts when they’re behind the wheel. Making sure to put our phones out of reach while driving is key, but also, breaking a bit of our smartphone addiction might help.

Seniors. Millennials. Baby boomers. Kids.

Basically, we’re all addicted to our smartphones. Making efforts to change our behaviour---at least a bit---and spend more time being present could be good for all of us.

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