From moderate to hyperconnected users: six smartphone use profiles and their impact on personal well-being

Young adults’ well-being depends not only on how much they use technology, but also on what they use it for

Charo Sádaba, Javier García-Manglano, Aurelio Fernández, Claudia López and Cecilia Serrano, Jóvenes en Transición research group, Instituto Cultura y Sociedad, Universidad de Navarra
Project selected in the Call for a grant to fund a social study project based on a multi-annual survey

The social, educational and relational reality of digital natives (born at the turn of the millennium) has, since that generation’s childhood, been mediated by technology and especially by smartphones. In the study on which this article is based, surveys of 1,200 young Spanish adults aged 18 to 22 years were analysed. This sample was representative of Spain as a whole. The data obtained show that, besides the amount of time spent on using smartphones (how much?), young adults’ well-being largely depends on their motives for resorting to this technology (what for?). Based on these motives, six user profiles have been defined. At one end of the scale are moderate users (42%), who make a generalist and balanced use of smartphones, i.e., they use them, but less so than the rest of young adults. At the other end of the scale are hyperconnected users (19%), who stand out for resorting to smartphones a lot for a variety of tasks. Between these two extremes are young adults that have particular motives for smartphone use, whose profiles are distributed among organised, social, impulsive and escapist users.
Key points
  • 1
       Regarding smartphone use, 42% of young people have a moderate user profile: no task or motive dominates their pattern of consumption. Conversely, 19% are hyperconnected users, since they resort to smartphones for many tasks. The rest of young adults (39%) use smartphones to organise (10%), socialise (10%), seek intense sensations (10%) and escape from their problems (9%).
  • 2
       The biggest gender bias can be found in profiles associated with escaping from problems: among the escapist users, who use smartphones to seek affection, entertainment or escapism, 62% are women; and, among the impulsive users, who resort to technology to consume pornography or gamble, 81% are men.
  • 3
       More than one third (35%) of young Spanish adults manifest signs of lack of control in smartphone use; moderate users are the ones who most often say that they control such use, and hyperconnected users are at the opposite end of the scale – more than half of them show symptoms of problematic technology use.
  • 4
       Levels of anxiety are higher in around one third of young adults, mainly among those with hyperconnected user, impulsive user and escapist user profiles.
  • 5
       Organised users stand out for their well-being: these young adults display higher levels of satisfaction with family, friends and leisure, and especially with work. Moreover, they have the highest levels of self-esteem and manifest a greater feeling of happiness than young adults with any other profile.
  • 6
       At the opposite end of the scale are escapist users: they exhibit low levels of satisfaction with leisure, work, family and friends. Moreover, they have low indicators of self-esteem and manifest feeling less happy compared to what those in the rest of the profiles express.

Each profile represented in the chart contains 11 motives for smartphone use: the inner circle (value 1) corresponds to the mean frequency of each motive in the representative sample of 1,200 young Spanish adults. The coloured area grows towards the outside when an activity is more prevalent. The motives analysed are the following: to get organised, to study and improve career prospects, to monitor health and physical activity, to communicate with others, to get informed or watch news, to find out about what others are doing (to pry), to watch pornography, to spend money on gambling or gaming, to express or seek affection from others, to escape from problems and to keep oneself entertained or to relax. For each activity, the young adults indicated whether they resorted to their smartphones never, a little, quite a lot or a lot

Making up the largest proportion of the sample (42%) are moderate users, since they are below the mean in all the examined uses (their area is small around the centre). In contrast, the hyperconnected user profile (19%) corresponds to those who use smartphones above the mean in all the explored motives (score higher than 1 on all the chart axes). 

Intermediate profiles are oriented towards specific uses, which manifest four prevalent modes of smartphone use. Young adults with an organised user profile (10%) mainly use them to get organised (calendar, tasks, etc.), to monitor health and physical activity, and to study and improve career prospects; and, to a lesser extent, to get informed. The use they make of smartphones for the rest of the tasks is considerably below the mean. The social user profile (10%) corresponds to those who use smartphones mainly to connect with others; what attracts them in particular is communicating, getting informed and finding out about what others are doing. Impulsive users (10%) use smartphones considerably more than other users for escapist and intense sensation seeking activities, such as pornography and winning money on gambling or gaming. Escapist users (9%) are also characterised by seeking escapism, but in a much less transgressive way, resorting to digital entertainment (series, films, videos, etc.) more often than others; they also manifest a tendency to resort to smartphones to forget about problems or to seek affection from others.

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