Screen Junkie Generations

Concerns about Device Addiction Grow

Screen_addiction_lIn 2010, CCS Insight predicted that mobile addiction would result in a barrage of negative publicity for phone makers and service providers (see CCS Insight Predictions for 2011 and Beyond). We believed that there would be growing professional concern that addiction to apps and services such as games, social networks, video streaming and text messaging would interfere with the user’s social development. Younger generations — so-called “screen-agers” — would be considered particularly vulnerable to such device dependency.

The topic is now receiving an increased level of professional concern and a growing amount of press coverage. We suggest that device makers and service providers prepare for the implications by building goodwill through proactivity, supplying advice and advanced tools that enable parents to control device usage.

In developed markets, most parents are aware that their children have difficulties putting down smartphones and tablets. However, observations that staring at screens could affect brain development and cause disconnection from the real world doesn’t necessarily require professional diagnosis.

A recent article in Advertising Age pointed to a study by content consultancy firm Miner & Co., outlining that tablets and smartphones (rather than televisions) are the screens of choice for younger users. Miner & Co. said that modern-day punishment for misbehaviour often means device confiscation, and showed cases of children more willing to forego treats than be disconnected from their tablets.

It’s clear that content consumption trends are changing, and there are serious ramifications for traditional broadcasters. Television ratings show that children’s networks are losing their audience to smaller screens. A lot of time is spent in front of hand-held devices.

The trend could be considered an unstoppable force, but there are some steps to counter the effects of device and content addictions. In China, Internet addiction is labelled a clinical disorder, with treatment centres having been established as early as in 2004. There are now hundreds of such facilities across China and Korea, and a number are opening in Western countries.

Professionals suggest that the growing interest among parents in “digital detox” programmes for their children might point to technology abuse: devices are used for supervision. Tablets have become the next nanny.

The issue isn’t new, with BlackBerry users’ addition to their devices having led the product to become known as the CrackBerry, and many adults having been partially raised by television. However, it is reaching more complicated levels. Recognition that device dependency is a behavioural disorder with serious long-term implications for a child’s development could be expected to have a profound effect on the telecoms industry. Parental responsibility would seem like the most logical antidote for the addiction, but suppliers can expect to take partial blame for the consequences.

The behavioural changes are embedded in society, and it will be nearly impossible to turn back the clock. But device makers and service providers could address the growing number of headlines by acknowledging the concerns and issuing recommendations and educational tools for children and adults. It seems inevitable that authorities and schools will begin to call for action, but any potential regulations would be unlikely to have a great effect without tougher parenting.

As we highlighted in 2010, the faults of screen addiction could fall upon the supplier companies. They should prepare for the fallout.

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