Smartphone Usage Shows Generation Gaps—and Bridges

Millennials. Gen-Xers. Boomers. All of them use cell phones—92 percent of American adults, in fact, according to a recent survey conducted by Pew Research Center, and 90 percent of the 3,217 people surveyed said they frequently have their phones with them. Is smart phone usage providing a common ground between disparate generations?

Maybe so when it comes to owning devices, but smartphone usage is still at odds between different generations in many cases.

The study showed a clear gap between age groups, delineating the differences in social standards and decorum as far as when it’s deemed acceptable to be tapping and swiping away on your smartphone and when it should stay in your pocket so you can engage with (gasp!) the people and world around you.

The biggest gap in the survey results came from public transportation. Among 18-29-year-olds, 90 percent responded that smartphone usage is generally okay while on the bus, subway or other mass transit system. That number dropped sharply, to 54 percent among those 65 and older. People ages 30-49 came in at 79 percent approval, and those 50-64 were at 71 percent.

Dining out provided another interesting result, with 50 percent of the youngest age group (18-29) feeling fine about being on their phones, compared to 26 percent from the oldest age group (65+). It would be interesting to know how many people from these age groups interpret “being on the phone” as talking to someone on it, as opposed to silent activities like checking email.

Talk of smartphone usage in social situations provided more common ground—of a sort. Of all adults polled, 82 percent said they feel it hurts social interactions when someone pulls out their phone. Despite that, 89 percent said they used their phone at their most recent social gatherings. If that doesn’t sound contradictory enough, 78 percent said that they used it for purposes related to the gathering—to post photos on social media, look up information related to conversations happening and to connect with other people known to the groups.

If the generations can’t quite agree on appropriate times for smartphone usage, at least it seems that individuals are using them more to increase engagement with those physically around them rather than to separate themselves from social settings.

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