The phone walkers: a study of human dependence on inactive mobile devices

in Behaviour
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The development of mobile phones has largely increased human interactions. Whilst the use of these devices for communication has received significant attention, there has been little analysis of more passive interactions. Through census data on casual social groups, this work suggests a clear pattern of mobile phones being carried in people’s hands, without the person using it (that is, not looking at it). Moreover, this study suggests that when individuals join members of the opposite sex there is a clear tendency to stop holding mobile phones whilst walking. Although it is not clear why people hold their phones whilst walking in such large proportions (38% of solitary women, and 31% of solitary men), we highlight several possible explanation for holding the device, including the need to advertise status and affluence, to maintain immediate connection with friends and family, and to mitigate feelings related to anxiety and security.

The phone walkers: a study of human dependence on inactive mobile devices

in Behaviour



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    Four of the most common poses of phone walkers holding phones whilst walking.

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    Summary of observations showing the total number of each group observed and the percentage of groups with one or more phone walkers.

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    Distribution of social group sizes for male only (N=768), female only (N=922) and mixed sex (N=519) groups. Standard errors as seen in Table C1 in Appendix C.

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    Distribution of groups with at least one phone walker for male only (N=768), female only (N=922) and mixed gender (N=519) groups. Standard error as seen in Table 1.

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    Percentage of phone walkers of each sex in groups of each size (total of N=2209 groups). Standard errors as appearing in Tables C2 and C3 in Appendix C.

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    Male/female solitary phone walkers vs phone walkers in mixed sex pairs. Standard errors as appearing in Tables C2 and C3 in Appendix C.

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    Percentage drop of phone walkers in pairs with at least one phone walker compared to solitary males and females. Of the total number of groups observed, the number of groups with phone walkers was of N=229 for male only, N=344 for female only, and N=78 for mixed sex. Standard errors as appearing in Tables C2 and C3 in Appendix C.

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    Phone walkers in all three types of pairs, where the total of pairs observed is N=829, of which 310 are single sex pairs. Standard error as appearing in Table C2 in Appendix C.

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    Sample details and total people observed in each sample.

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    Total single walkers and pairs observed in each sample.

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    Distribution of pairs observed in each sample.

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    Distribution of single walkers and whether they were phone walkers observed in each sample.

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    Percentages of phone walkers by group size observed in each sample.

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    Percentages of phone walkers by gender observed in each sample.

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    Standard errors for people observed by gender and group size.

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    Standard errors for phone walkers in pairs obsessed of each type.

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    Standard errors for single phone walkers by gender observed.

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    Standard errors by gender in pairs of phone walkers observed.

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