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Is the telco industry taking our smartphone obsession seriously?

Social but not social

With Tencent’s Honour of Kings set to hit app stores across the US and Europe, should we be asking more of the telecoms industry in managing our smartphone addiction?

Honour of Kings is just a single example, but it’s a pretty good one. Over in China, Tencent has decided to limit the amount of playable time of the app, responding to complaints that children were getting addicted to the game, according to Reuters. It’s a rare case to be reported in the press, but one which we see every day. How many people do you know addicting to Clash of Clans, or taking the perfect selfie, or watching cat videos?

While it might be considered slightly unusual for a telecoms media title to be taking an adverse position on the increasing amount of time being spent on devices, moderation isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It might be worth questioning whether the telco industry should take more of an interest in the idea of education.

According to recent research, the amount of time US consumers spent on their smartphones over 2016 was up 11% year-on-year to five hours a day. This might seem like a lot of time on the internet, but browsers only accounted for 8% of this time. The smartphone is quickly become the only item we need, but is this healthy? Older generations may complain that the art of conversation is dying, but there are also plenty of other areas to worry about.

Such concerns are seemingly also being felt in Colorado, where the Colorado Legislative Council Staff is looking into how new rules can be passed which would make it illegal to sell a smartphone to anyone under the age of 13, or someone who indicates it would be for someone under the age of 13.

This is an extreme example, and we frown upon the state dictating any aspect of an individual’s life in such a manner, but there is some logic to it. Rules will be broken by parents who do not understand the logic behind them, but education from the industry might be a good idea to encourage a healthier lifestyle, not only from a physical perspective, but also mentally and socially. Are we able to control our smartphone obsession?

An excellent parallel is the fast food industry. Companies like McDonalds and Burger King spent millions every year on funding sports for youngsters to discourage obesity and encourage moderation. It is mainly after years of parents’ complaints that these brands starting taking responsibility, but the message has hit home.

While this industry has effectively been coerced into developing Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategies, there is at least a token attempt to create awareness. Yes, such activities are a means to generate positive press to counter the mountain of column inches regarding ill health and obesity, but it is at least contributing to the solution.

It might be a shallow attempt to gain favour in the eyes of parents, but you can’t argue with the billions which has been poured into the bank accounts of community events and youth sports programmes. Some might disagree with a fast food brand sponsoring sports, but it is funding opportunities for young people to get into exercise.

The telco industry may be at risk of falling into this trap. Studies have claimed overuse of smartphones could cause back problems through over hunching, anxiety and depression, disruption of sleeping patterns, destroys attention span, and we haven’t even mentioned the effects on a person’s social skills. The science behind these studies will be better in some than others, but there will be some truth in there somewhere.

Not getting ahead of these claims hurt the fast food industry, and only increased the amount of cash which needed to be spent to buy back favour in the eyes of the parents. Reversing these perceptions takes time, and eats away at profits. Considering profits in the telco space are getting smaller and smaller every day, perhaps it might be a good idea to get ahead of the game.

Should the telco industry be taking more responsibility when it comes to how smartphones negatively impact our lives? Is the lesson of moderation be one telcos should be teaching to their blue-screen obsessed customers? Are we becoming too obsessed with our digital lives?


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