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The emotional attachment of owning a smartphone

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People are growing increasingly emotionally attached to their smartphones, claim researchers from Loughborough University and the University of Iceland in Reykjavik.

The emergence of devices such as the Apple iPhone in January 2007 gave users a computer in their pocket.  Not only did they allow them to make phone calls and send text messages, now they had immediate access to the Internet, social media and network systems, email accounts, video clips, music files and a vast array of phone-based software apps.

Today, there are myriad brands and smartphone models all competing for market share.  As such, understanding how users become reliant on their smartphone for particular tasks, how they invest time and money in these gadgets and the relationship they have with their devices is increasingly important to the manufacturers hoping to beat rivals to sell more of their brand.

Dr Tom Page from the Loughborough University Design School and Professor Gísli Thorsteinsson from the University of Iceland wanted to establish whether users get emotionally attached to their smartphones.

Through a questionnaire given to 205 smart phone users in the age range 16 to 64 years from the UK, Hong Kong, China, Canada, Australia, Peru and the USA, and through a case study, the research team has drawn a preliminary conclusion.

They found that people do grow emotionally attached to their smartphone, or at least the connectivity and the technology that the device facilitates.  It is the ease with which smartphones can be used, the need to keep them close, the ability to pour out one's life into the apps and networks to which it connects and the customisation and personalisation options of a smartphone that brings emotional baggage to ownership, the team suggests.

Dr Page explains: “Today it is considered the norm for people to repeatedly and distractedly check their phones, not for missed calls, but for the countless notifications that social sites, apps and other software spit out at them via that touchscreen.

“In some circles – teenagers, journalists, business users and other professionals – it is even considered something of a social faux pas, a sign of being inept not to have a constant connection with the outside world via one's smart phone regardless of the circumstances one finds oneself at any given time.

"Smartphones are creating a huge ripple in the pond of human behaviour and it is important that, as smartphones develop, we continue to study the way they affect behaviour, emotions and emotional attachments.”

The paper ‘User attachment to smartphones and design guidelines’ by Dr Tom Page and Professor Gísli Thorsteinsson, has been published in the International Journal of Mobile Learning and Organisation.