Dan Ness, Principal Analyst, MetaFacts, January 18, 2019
American adults are using their connected devices as much as ever, in 2018 totaling 13 trillion hours per week with their Smartphones, PCs, Tablets, and Game Consoles. This is slightly lower than the 13.3 trillion-hour level in 2017.
This is based on the 36th wave of Technology User Profile – TUP 2018. This analysis is based on 7,886 U.S. survey respondents, 7,521 respondents in TUP 2017, and 7,336 in TUP 2016.
Total screen time stabilizes
There has been growing media awareness and reporting about adverse social and health effects from the over-use of technology devices. These concerns have sparked the develop of apps and settings to help monitor and manage screen time. Meanwhile, Americans, and indeed also adults around the world, continue to find useful and entertaining ways to integrate actively connected devices into their lives.
Average screen time per device stabilizes
The growth in total hours has been partially due to the steadily growing population of online adults between 2016 and 2018. However, during this same time period, the average number of connected devices being actively used has gone down slightly, dropping from 4.3 in 2016 to 4.2 in 2017, and then 3.9 in 2018. The net effect is that the average number of hours per device has actually increased between 2016 and 2018, rising from 13.4 hours per week per device to 15.4.
Total screen time shrinks among multi-device users
Many of the total screen hours are due to the busyness of the busiest users. In 2016, over a third (34%) of total device hours were due to the activity levels of users using 7 or more connected devices. In 2017, this many-device group dropped to be accounting for 31% of total hours, and by 2018 account for 26% of total hours.
Meanwhile, users with 2 to 4 devices grew from representing 39% of total hours in 2016 to 41% in 2017, and 47% in 2018. This type of bimodal distribution emphasizes the importance of separating fewer-device from multi-device users for a deeper and more relevant understanding.
Screen time growth spans mono and multi-device users
Drilling down in the TUP data a little further, we can see that the average number of device hours has changed across users with many devices and also among those with few. For users with any given number of devices, the average number of hours increased. While it may seem that this would result in a higher number of total device hours, as mentioned earlier the average number of actively-used connected devices shrank, bringing the total average down.
Do these trends point to more or fewer devices, or to more or fewer hours using them? I expect a continued wobble in the number of devices being used.
“BOB” is one of the strongest forces bringing about a rising average number of devices. The key benefit from a Best-Of-Breed is having a narrow-function device which does something well. High-end cameras are very popular with expert photographers who value their specialized capabilities. The first cell phones were simple enough for phone calls and did very little else.
Forces in the direction of users using fewer devices include the absorption that comes from functional substitution. Smartphones were able to incorporate photography – absorbing the functionality of most standalone cameras, especially for ordinary photographers. Similarly, smartphones offered music-playing – thereby replacing most iPods and MP3 players. To the extent smartphone screens can become large enough to rival larger-screened tablets and PCs, they can begin to act as substitutes for image-intensive activities such as shopping. Similarly, to the extent voice assistants truly take hold beyond the niche or novelty stage, devices which support these may begin to reduce user’s demand for as many connected devices.
As to screen time measurement and monitoring taking hold among the mass market, I expect that to go about as well as most New Year’s Resolutions, full of honest intention but ultimately most of us will be distracted back into our habits.
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