At the epicentre of our ‘smart’ lives today is the smartphone – a device that’s become our entertainment hub, gaming arcade, digital wallet, real-time newspaper, and camera among so many other things.
This modern day Swiss Army knife has become so ubiquitous that it’s unusual for someone to not own one. And yet, at a time where these devices seem so capable and powerful, many are looking towards simpler alternatives. In an effort to simplify, the Anti-Smartphone (or feature phone) is becoming hot property for those aiming to escape the clutches of constant connectivity.
It would be an understatement to say that smartphones have become seemingly indispensable. But even with the multitude of capabilities and benefits, the drawbacks of consistently connected life seem to be becoming more prevalent. As mental health and privacy increase in priority for many, the smartphone has gone from being empowering to making some feel powerless. Some studies have shown correlations between smartphone usage over time with heightened anxiety or depression, and now some are choosing either limited usage or down-grading their devices altogether.
In a local context, smartphone usage and mental health each have some strikingly high numbers. For 2022 there are an estimated 25.5 million smartphone users in South Africa, set to grow by 3% by next year (while this may seem nominal, we are talking about hundreds of thousands of new users). With demand highest amongst low to mid-priced devices and consumers actively using them to access the internet and social media, the smartphone is not going anywhere any time soon.
On the other hand, mental health in South Africa has rapidly evolved from concern to crisis in a relatively short number of years. While Covid-19 has played a significant role both locally and abroad, other factors such as devastating unemployment, stark inequality and femicide have compounded the already volatile situation. The situation was dire before the pandemic.
According to 2018 data by the South African College of Applied Psychology one in six South Africans suffers from anxiety, depression, or a substance use disorder. More recent and youth-focused data from the likes of UNICEF’s 2021 South Africa U-Report are showing similarly worrisome conclusions, where 65% of young people stated that they had some form of a mental health issue but did not seek help. Adding smartphones and social media into the equation and some troubling outcomes begin to form.
Looking at the numbers it’s not hard to see how the growing demand for smartphones and escalating mental crisis collide in some manner, the question is now what are the solutions?
Some passive approaches see limiting access to certain apps at different intervals in the day. Other more aggressive approaches could include downgrading to said feature phone (with the likes of Nokia having a healthy selection) and living in peace with less pinging.
While the smartphone will still be widely used, how and for what purposes will inspire some great debate.
Jordan Major is a senior strategist and writer who believes in the power of collaborating with culture to connect brands to their customers. In his role at RAPT Creative he works alongside the creative studio to ensure all work is informed by insights and data to ensure that the work is executed holistically in unique territories and across the relevant channels. His Twitter handle is //twitter.com/JordanMajor.
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