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The comfort of phones – Deirdre from Ireland

Deirdre, a research participant in Ireland, talks about her smartphone use and what it means to her.
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I retired at the age of 62   and that gave me great opportunity to take up  some pursuits that I had developed over the years.  I love doing drama costumes for the local  society and I also took up ancestry.  The family tree…I can be up to 3 in the morning  on the computer, chasing down relatives.  Sometimes I walk the Camino de Santiago, which  is the ancient pilgrimage trail in northern Spain.  I’ve done that quite a few times, it’s great fun. I also serve on the committee of the local community association. That’s a voluntary position. I have an allotment, and I spent a lot of time with my grandchild, looking after him.
50.8
I know I sound very busy and I’m doing lots of things, but there are actually times when I feel guilty that I’m not doing enough or I’m not doing useful things and like everybody else, I pick up my phone. I was really surprised one day when I discovered that you can get a report back from the phone and it tells you how many hours per day you spent on the phone and I’ve been known to spend 6 to 7 hours per day and that’s a lot of…that’s a lot, a big proportion of your day on the phone.
85.6
Why do I do this? Well, at the time, I had some very very serious personal problems and they seemed insurmountable, heartrending, and they just took all of my attention, so I found using the phone, and playing cards, it was an area that I had control over, it was a complete diversion, it just took me away from my problems. I was so focused on the phone that I actually  forgot about the world outside and that actually did help me deal with my problems.
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Anthropologist: Professor Daniel Miller
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Filmmakers: Daniel Balteanu, Professor David Prendergast

A common phrase used in the discussion of smartphones is ‘smartphone addiction’, partly in acknowledgement that some apps are designed to ‘hook’ users and extend their time using that app.

The problem is that in practice, there is a wide range of reasons why people might be constantly on their smartphones. This could range from schoolchildren who are interested in what someone might be saying about them to people who spend a long amount of time playing games, to people who feel the need to check the latest political news every few minutes. But these are all quite different reasons for using a smartphone and are better understood as addiction to specific content or behaviour, rather than being thought of as smartphone addiction.

In our project, we are interested in understanding why an individual might spend an inordinate amount of time on their phones. This is something made clear by Deirdre, a research participant in Ireland, who appreciates that her increased use of her smartphone was due to some very specific circumstances at a particular point in her life, as you can see in the film above.

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An Anthropology of Smartphones: Communication, Ageing and Health

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