Smartphone is now ‘the place where we live’, anthropologists say

a person wearing a hat talking on a cell phone: Photograph: Valéry Hache/AFP/Getty Images © Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Valéry Hache/AFP/Getty Images

Smartphone users have become “human snails carrying our homes in our pockets”, with a tendency to ignore friends and family in favour of their device, according to a landmark study.

A team of anthropologists from UCL spent more than a year documenting smartphone use in nine countries around the world, from Ireland to Cameroon, and found that far from being trivial toys, people felt the same way about their devices as they did about their homes.

“The smartphone is no longer just a device that we use, it’s become the place where we live,” said Prof Daniel Miller, who led the study. “The flip side of that for human relationships is that at any point, whether over a meal, a meeting or other shared activity, a person we’re with can just disappear, having ‘gone home’ to their smartphone.”

This phenomenon was leading to the “death of proximity” when it comes to face-to-face interaction, he said.

“This behaviour, and the frustration, disappointment or even offence it can cause, is what we’re calling the ‘death of proximity’. We are learning to live with the jeopardy that even when we are physically together, we can be socially, emotionally or professionally alone.”

If there’s one specific cause for that transformation, the researchers suggest it may be chat apps such as WhatsApp, which they call the “heart of the smartphone”. “For many users across most regions, a single app now represents the most important thing that the smartphone does for them” – LINE in Japan, for instance, WeChat in China, and WhatsApp in Brazil.

a man wearing sunglasses and a hat: Prof Daniel Miller, who led the study, said: ‘At any point a person we’re with can just disappear, having ‘gone home’ to their smartphone.’ © Photograph: Valéry Hache/AFP/Getty Images Prof Daniel Miller, who led the study, said: ‘At any point a person we’re with can just disappear, having ‘gone home’ to their smartphone.’

Video: Teens would rather break their bones than lose their phones (Business Insider)

Smartphone is now ‘the place where we live’, anthropologists say