Double-Edged Screen: Device Dependency

Device dependency or addiction?

Usage of technology has become a guilt-free necessity during the COVID-19 pandemic, but pre-COVID device dependency has proven to be much more emotionally complex.  While most people had positive feelings toward their smartphones and tablets, it is hard to determine when device usage was making their lives better and when it was making it worse.  Struggling with moderation, many users even wondered whether they and others are addicted to their devices.

“If the first thing someone did in the morning was take a shot of vodka and the last thing before bed was taking a shot of vodka, we’d acknowledge them as an alcoholic. But this is the same thing I do with my phone. It absolutely feels like an addiction.”

Female, Gen z, New York City

Our research participants felt their devices were essential to staying connected, being productive, and functioning safely.  These devices also served as a source of entertainment and relaxation throughout the day. In fact, 83% of participants said they experienced positive feelings after using their smartphones.  The fine line between this positive use and device dependency, or even addiction, was hard to identify.

Device Dependency: 83% of people say others are addicted to their phone, but 34% percent say they are addicted to their own phone -  Chirp Research, The Double-Edged Screen

Device use was seen as a double-edged sword.  It is both essential for productivity and a productivity drain.  It connects us to others but can cause us to feel left out.  We know we are dependent on our devices, but that dependence sometimes feels like fruitful attachment and sometimes feels like an unconscious addiction.  As our post-COVID life becomes more clear, the use patterns and their emotional implications observed in January-February may return. 

Device Dependency 22% of people note that they are frequently distracted while using their devices - Chirp Research, The Double-Edged Screen

No Plans To Stop

Despite these coexisting contradictory feelings and behaviors, the majority of respondents had no plans to reduce their device dependency in the near future.  As part of our ongoing study, The Double-Edged Screen, Chirp will be following these rapidly shifting behaviors to discover how COVID-19 quarantine will shape attitudes towards device dependency in the future.

“I use the phone for productivity, I use it for work, I use it for social. I have to have it. I can’t go without it.”

Male, Gen X, New York City
Device Dependency: 67% of people expect their phone usage to stay the same in the upcoming year - Chirp Research, The Double-Edged Screen

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The Double-Edged Screen Methodology

The Double-Edged Screen is a primary research study conducted in early 2020 by Chirp Research. In this study, Chirp first conducted a nationally representative quantitative study (n=2000) to better understand perceptions of device usage, physical and mental impacts of device usage, and techniques for reducing screen time. Next, Chirp conducted multi-generational focus groups in Dallas and New York City to gain an intimate understanding of the role of technology and the positive and negative implications that device usage has on participants’ lives.  Additionally, we explored personal device usage and the impact of screen time on emotions and behaviors across generations and device types.