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Poll: young people are stressed and distracted by constant smartphone connectivity

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Smartphones have become an essential part of Americans’ lives. According to a new Vox/Morning Consult poll, 78 percent of American adults have smartphones — the vast majority of them either iPhones or running Google’s Android. The survey, conducted in late September, provides a detailed look at how Americans use their phones and how they feel about them.

Unsurprisingly, young people are the most enthusiastic adopters of smartphones and use the widest range of apps. Some apps — like Snapchat and Instagram — are still used almost entirely by younger users. Others, especially Facebook, are becoming practically universal; even among Americans over 65, more use Facebook than not.

One of the most interesting findings was the love-hate relationship many of us — especially young people — have with our phones. Young people are the heaviest cellphone users. They’re also the most likely to be stressed out about the constant distraction and the resulting toll it can take on face-to-face relationships. About half of young adults regularly turn off their phones to salvage some uninterrupted personal time. Nevertheless, people overwhelmingly say that the benefits of smartphone ownership more than make up for the extra stress.

Smartphones stress us out, but we love them anyway

The survey showed significant differences in the way different generations used their smartphones. Unsurprisingly, smartphone use is far more common among the young. Among those ages 18 to 29, 92 percent own a smartphone. That compares with just 54 percent of those over 65.

Interestingly, black and Hispanic users own smartphones at higher rates (89 and 82 percent, respectively) than white people (77 percent). This may be a reflection of the fact that white people are older, on average, than minorities.

More than 90 percent of those under 45 said that a smartphone helps them stay in touch with friends and family and keep up with current events. Still, many young people have mixed feelings about their phones.

A slight majority of those under 45 say they agree with the statement “the ability to be constantly connected to the internet with a smartphone can make me feel stressed out.” In contrast, only a quarter of those over 65 agreed with the statement. Seventy-eight percent of people under 30 found the constant connectivity of their smartphones distracting.

Smartphone users of all ages regularly turn off their smartphones to avoid distractions. Forty-three percent of those under 30 and 52 percent of those over 65 say they do this multiple times per week.

Still, people — young and old — overwhelmingly said smartphones were worth the stress. Sixty-four percent said that smartphones were “a good thing because it helps me stay in touch with friends, family, and current events,” while only 14 percent said that it was “a bad thing because it makes me feel stressed and distracted.”

Sixty-two percent of respondents under 30 said that they prefer to communicate with friends and family by text message or email rather than phone calls, compared with 34 percent who preferred phone calls. People 65 and over see things very differently: 73 percent say they prefer phone calls, while just 20 percent are on the texting bandwagon.

Google is winning the overall market; Apple is winning rich people

The survey found that 78 percent of respondents have a smartphone, and of these, 59 percent were Android phones. Apple accounted for 36 percent, with Windows Phones at a paltry 2 percent and BlackBerry phones below 1 percent.

Google and Apple have pursued different business models. The iPhone is designed as a premium product, with a price to match. And this is reflected in our survey results. Among those making more than $100,000 per year, a slight plurality — 50 percent to 46 percent — use iPhones. Among those making less than $50,000, in contrast, Android has 65 percent market share, compared with just 29 percent for the iPhone.

Almost half of those with college degrees have iPhones, compared with just 31 percent of those with less than a college degree. While iPhones are most popular in the affluent Northeast region of the country, Android phones sell best among Midwesterners.

Apple’s popularity among affluent customers is a big reason the company is so profitable. Cutthroat competition among Android smartphone makers has made profit margins in the Android market razor-thin. Apple, in contrast, is the only company making an iOS-based phone, so it’s able to charge a healthy premium for the iPhone.

Facebook is way more popular than other apps

Overall, Facebook is vastly more popular than any other mobile app we asked about, with 60 percent reporting they use the app daily and just 18 percent saying they never use it. Other apps like Instagram (18 percent), Twitter (15 percent), and Snapchat (15 percent) were far behind. Women are heavier users of Facebook, with 66 percent reporting they use the app daily, compared with 54 percent of men.

Instagram and Snapchat are hugely popular among the youngest users. Half of those under 30 use Instagram multiple times per week, and the same is true of Snapchat. Among those under 65, only 3 percent use Instagram at least a few times a week, while just 1 percent are regular Snapchat users. In contrast, Facebook is popular among older Americans, with 52 percent of those over 65 using it multiple times per week.

We asked about three popular games: Angry Birds, Candy Crush, and Pokémon Go. Candy Crush was the most popular, with an impressive 22 percent of all smartphone users saying they play it at least a few times per week. That compares with 17 percent playing Pokémon Go multiple times per week and 13 percent playing Angry Birds.

Several app categories have received a lot of attention in the technology press but have yet to reach ordinary users. Seventy-seven percent of respondents say they never use food delivery apps like Seamless or GrubHub; 84 percent have never used the payment app Venmo or the business messaging app Slack (10 percent use Slack at least a few times a week).

Younger people are more likely to pay for apps or in-app content, though only about a third of those under 30 say they do so at least a few times a month. Only 5 percent of those over 65 do so.