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The Mobile Way Of Life

  |  May 7, 2012   |  Comments   |  

The "Fear of Missing Out" phenomena has amplified. Just what are the cultural implications of this new mobility?

The mobile phone has changed the way we live our lives. It keeps us constantly connected to people and the flow of information. It's an always-on device that we have with us all the time, and use from the moment we wake up till we fall asleep again.

The mobile phone has become the ultimate converged device (Phone, music, GPS, camera, the list goes on). I would be so bold to claim that most of us reading this article was woken up by an alarm clock set on your mobile phone this morning.

Because of which, it is now your constant companion and indispensible friend.

In a recent BBDO and Microsoft global study, "Meet The Screens," which examines the relationship people have with their devices, the mobile phone was found to fit the archetype of  "the lover" where it embodies the characteristics of a lover, both in terms of intimacy and the demands imposed by a relationship of intense closeness. (Disclosure: I work at BBDO/Proximity Singapore),

The consequences of such a perceived relationship meant that consumers expected their phones to know them perfectly, help them make the most of themselves (self actualization through utility and apps), and help them fit in/belong (always connected) and occasionally surprise them (through discovering new information and relevant deals).

At the same time, this has led to certain new psychological fear of leaving the house without your mobile phone (most people would rather forget their wallet - like a friend recently said: "I can easily borrow money but I can't remember my husband's mobile number") or worse yet, losing their mobile phone (with the disturbing new rise in nomophobia.

The mobile phone has given us the feeling that we are omnipresent (physically here, but also present there and everywhere) and this has led to a change in our social behaviors. It has made it fashionable to be rude in a social context and it is common to see a social setting like the one below at any restaurant, café, and even business meeting where people physically together are mentally elsewhere connected to some other person or piece of content hundreds of miles away.

It has also led to new skillsets – People now talk about the newfound ability  to maintain eye contact with people while you text someone else.

This sort of behavior has led to a recent Internet meme called the Phone Stack game. It goes like this: When you're out at a restaurant eating as a group, after everyone orders, they stack their phones at the center of the table face down. No one is allowed to grab their devices until the meal is done and whoever is unable to comply will be responsible for paying for the entire meal.

The root of all this is FOMO; an age-old addiction that has been amplified thousand-fold by social media and smartphones. FOMO or "Fear Of Missing Out" refers to the all-consuming feeling that you're missing out on what your peers are doing, in the know about or in possession of. Adapted for the social media age, that refers to the inadequacy that flares up from skimming social sites and seeing the status updates, photographs messages providing thrilling glimpses into the daily lives and activities of friends, co-workers, and peers.

The irony to this is that most people's social updates are a carefully edited side of their real selves. It's how we want others to see us. In fact, studies done found that the key reason people were using Facebook was because of the human need for self-presentation and the use of Facebook can actually help enhance self-esteem. Consequently, you now have people posting something fun they did over the weekend in mitigation for something else they've seen on Facebook that made them felt like they've missed out.

This has led to a vicious cycle: The solution to making yourself feel better (from FOMO) comes from generating FOMO in another person.

What are the cultural implications of this new mobile way of life?

  1. The Impatient Consumer It's made us an even more impatient society than we already are, driving a push button, on-demand culture where I can get information, content, apps, and connections anytime I want, anywhere I want it.
  2. Documenting rather than living We spend more time documenting our lives than living it - and this is evident at any restaurant setting where people only start eating their food after they've taken five photos, updated Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and checked in on Foursquare.
  3. The paradox of choice The mobile adage goes: "There is an app for everything but not one app that does everything." With the constant connection to people and information, there's just too many things vying for our attention and choices to make on a daily basis resulting in increase anxiety and reduced happiness from fears of missed opportunities.
  4. More time out of home We find ourselves spending more time out of home because we are no longer anchored to a fixed line phone or our computers. However this also leads to the rise of the distracted commuter, people on trains and buses constantly glued to their phones, or people walking while reading or texting.It has also led to specific environments such as restaurants and stores where consumers are captivated on their devices, documenting their lives or crowdsourcing opinions on Facebook or Whatsapp on what they should eat or whether they should buy that dress from the store.

With the adoption of near-field communications (NFC) and mobile wallets, the functional use of the mobile phone will continue to shape and change the way we behave and live our lives, evolving the way we interact, communicate, and connect with others and ourselves. Technology has always been an enabler to help us live better lives. In the case of the mobile, we need to ensure that we are in control of the device rather than letting it (and the overload of information and constant need for attention) control us.

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Vincent Teo

Vincent is the co-founder and partner at C//IQUE, a product development studio and incubator that focuses on developing digital products and services that disrupt traditional business models and empower consumers. He has over a decade of experience both on the client and agency side, most recently as a digital planning director at BBDO/Proximity and lead digital strategist at Publicis. Prior to that, he started-up and managed the Hong Kong office of Splash Interactive Group and built the online business at Citibank and HSBC. Connect with him on Twitter @intersphere.

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