Curse of the smart phone . . . and adults are as guilty as children

James Hall

The rise of the smartphone has led to an increase in what has long been considered a social faux pas of the highest order, using a phone during a film or a play. And adults are now almost as guilty of it as teenagers.

A report published yesterday showed that one in four teenagers and almost one in five adults admitted using their smartphone during a performance.

Ofcom, the British communications watchdog, conducted research into how mobile technology was changing habits. People with ordinary mobile phones were far less likely to keep them turned on during a play or film, Ofcom found.

It said the propensity for people to use their phones to surf the internet or post messages on Twitter raised issues of “etiquette and modern manners”.

The watchdog found that 27 per cent of teenagers used their smartphones — multifunctional devices allowing access to the internet — in venues where they have been asked to turn them off. Almost 20 per cent of adults also said that they were likely to use their smartphones secretly in supposedly quiet venues. James Thickett, the director of research for Ofcom, said the high level of smartphone use in venues such as theatres “raises an issue about social etiquette and modern manners and the degree to which we as a society are tolerant of this behaviour”.

Phones going off in the theatre have in recent years become an annoyance for actors. Last month Simon Callow, the actor, said it takes an hour to recover after a phone goes off in a theatre.

Mr Thickett said: “I think what we have found before is that teenagers have always been more likely to use mobile phones in cinemas and theatres. What we are finding now is that for smartphone users, it is much, much higher, but adult smartphone users as well. So it is not just about adults and teenagers having different values, it is about technology driving the values towards the way you behave in social situations,” he said. The report found that one in four adults and almost half of all teenagers — defined as 12 to 15 year-olds — own a smartphone.

Mr Thickett said smartphones have also altered the work-life balance, with one in four users saying that they would take work-related phone calls while on holiday, compared with just 16 per cent of regular mobile phone users. Ofcom’s Communications Market Report found that nearly two-thirds of teenagers were “highly addicted” to smartphones, with half admitting using them even in the lavatory. One third of teenagers said that they were likely to use a smartphone during meals, while four in 10 said they answered their phone if it woke them at night.

The phones have also significantly affected how people use leisure time. Almost a quarter of teenagers said they watched less television due to having a smartphone, while 15 per cent say that they read fewer books because of it.

“The rapid growth in the use of smartphones – which offer internet access, emails and a variety of internet-based applications – is changing the way that many of us, particularly teenagers, act in social situations,” said Mr Thickett.

Smartphone use is skewed towards young males in higher social-economic groups. However, one in 10 Britons over the age of 55 owns one. BlackBerries are the most popular smartphones among teenagers and students, with their free messaging service, while iPhones are the most popular among adults.