Just when you thought devices could not take up more of people’s lives, usage in the Nordics continues to rise. 58 per cent of Scandinavians now admit that they spend too much time on their smartphone.
Commuters on morning trains. People waiting for the bus. Colleagues in meetings. Teenagers on social media. Tired parents looking for easy entertainment or scrolling through news sites as the evening comes to an end. Smartphones are everywhere these days – at home, at work, at social gatherings, during quiet moments, before going to sleep and, for some, the first thing to check in the morning.
Smartphones have already conquered almost all realms of communication, information and entertainment, and usage in 2022 continues to increase among Scandinavians who just can’t seem to get enough of them.
Smartphones are gaining in popularity
The smartphone market in Scandinavia is now mature: 94 per cent of Scandinavians own or have access to a smartphone, a figure that has remained relatively constant over the past few years. However, Scandinavians are still discovering new ways of using the phone, realising that most transactions and searches can be performed on a small screen.
The preference for smartphones is on the rise in almost all areas – from using social media to checking bank accounts, from searching and shopping to streaming films and watching TV on demand.
Figure 46. Smartphones as preferred device for activities
Which, if any, is your preferred device for each of the following activities? (Respondents who chose “Mobile phone”)
In response to the popularity of smartphones most companies have applied a mobile-first or even mobile-only approach to digital innovation over the past few years, with services launched exclusively for smartphone users, or optimised for a mobile experience.
Similarly, many public sector services are moving from computers to mobile interfaces, giving citizens easy access information or to carry out administrative tasks on the go.
Computers and TV screens are still relevant
While for some people smartphones have largely taken over for communication and entertainment, many Scandinavians still prefer the larger-size screens of computers and TVs.
In this year’s survey, 31 per cent of respondents say they prefer a computer (laptop or desktop) for online searches, 42 per cent prefer computers for online purchases (almost as many as the 44 per cent who prefer smartphones), and 20 per cent prefer computers for playing games.
Figure 47. Preferred device for online activities
Which, if any, is your preferred device for each of the following activities?
TVs also remain popular for entertainment: 62 per cent of respondents prefer the larger TV screen for streaming films and TV shows and also for watching TV programmes via catch up services, and 75 per cent prefer the TV screen for watching live TV.
Figure 48. Preferred device for TV and streaming
Which, if any, is your preferred device for each of the following activities?
Many people also still stay updated on news through TV. 28 per cent of respondents in this year’s survey said that TV news is their favourite way to stay updated on current events. Another 28 per cent prefer news websites or apps, while only 10 per cent prefer to get their news from social media.
Figure 49. Preferred ways to stay updated on news and current events
Please rank the top 3 ways in which you stay updated on news or current events.
However, there are differences in preferences for news sources between age groups. In general TV and radio news are more popular with older people, and the use of social media to obtain news declines with age. Interestingly, the preference for news websites or news apps according to age can be shown as an inverted U-shaped curve, with the popularity of news websites or apps greatest among 35-44 year-olds but much lower among not only older, but also younger audiences.
Figure 50. Most preferred way to stay updated on news and current events: Age
Please rank the top 3 ways in which you stay updated on news or current events (Respondents who ranked the channels below as their first priority)
Looking at specific social media platforms, we see that Facebook is the preferred outlet for staying updated on news and current events. Despite discussions in recent years about news criteria and editorial responsibility on social media, Facebook has maintained its lead with no single platform having solved the challenge of how to present trustworthy news in a user-driven digital reality.
Figure 51. Preferred social media platform for staying updated on news or current events
Which social media platforms are your most preferred to stay updated on news or current events?
Short video content and ‘stories’ have mushroomed in 2022
Traditionally, a story is something that people tell each other, or something you would read in a book. In 2022, a story can be a piece of social media content (whether image, sound or video) that expires after 24 hours and so can be viewed only for a short period before disappearing.
TikTok in particular has revolutionised the short video format, spellbinding audiences everywhere with an endless feed of pranks, stunts, dances and entertainment. Downloads of the TikTok app having surpassed two billion worldwide.1
Instagram Reels are a similar concept, achieving significant popularity in 2022 with short videos and easily digestible content, typically set to chart music or pre-existing sound clips from other Instagram users. In June 2021, Instagram launched full-screen advertisements in Reels, enabling companies to promote their products and services using this popular new video format.
With the popularity of both TikTok videos and Reels, it is perhaps no surprise that Scandinavian consumers now are much more likely to watch video content on their social media platforms. 42 per cent of respondents in this year’s survey say that they watch short videos, live posts or stories at least once a day, up by almost a third from 32 per cent last year.
Figure 52. Daily activities
Below is a list of activities that you may do on your devices. Which, if any, of these do you do at least once a day?
Similarly, more and more people watch videos shared on instant messaging networks (up from 16 per cent in 2021 to 21 per cent this year), and more people watch live streams, enabling users to broadcast videos to their followers in real-time. For example, Instagram’s live functionality has grown in popularity ever since its launch in 2016.
Social media steals your time
Needless to say, browsing through images, stories, Reels and live videos can be time-consuming, and Scandinavians are heavy users of social media content. There are no significant differences between Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Almost one in three people now spend more than two hours daily on social media, and 12 per cent of this year’s respondents consume or create social media content for more than four hours every day. Not surprisingly, young people spend more time on social media than older generations, and women spend more time than men.
Figure 53. Time spent on social media
On average, how much time, if at all, do you spend on social media (excluding instant messaging)?
Overuse of devices can affect your day – and your life
With so many hours spent on devices every day, the (over)use of devices for social media, entertainment, gaming and browsing has become part of a debate about mental health, mindfulness, presence in the moment and overall ability to lead a healthy lifestyle.
Scandinavians are no strangers to this debate, which is promoted by health professionals, therapists and life coaches. Many people speak in public about the dangers of allowing social media to consume your day – or allowing negative opinions to consume your thoughts.2 And the media frequently report stories about people who have had to take a break from social media due to mental health concerns.
A large proportion of respondents believe they spend too much time on their devices, the smartphone in particular. 58 per cent of respondents say they spend too much time on their phone, 41 per cent stay awake later than planned because of it, and 67 per cent use it as soon as they wake up in the morning.
Figure 54. Overuse of devices
Thinking about the following statements, which of the following devices does it apply to, if any?
Other devices are also seen to be too time-consuming, especially television, which keeps 20 per cent of Scandinavians up at night and serves as a distraction during mealtimes for almost a third.
Evenings especially are spent on devices in many Scandinavian homes, and 37 per cent of respondents now say that they use their phone too much in the evening, up by ten percentage points from 2021. Many respondents also say that they use their phones too much at the weekend and in the company of family. As many as 21 per cent say that they use their phone too much all the time.
Figure 55. Phone overuse
In which, if any, of the following situations do you think you use your mobile phone too much?
Will we ever turn it off?
Smartphones are not just a technological device: they are a social, cultural and behavioural phenomenon that permeates life, not just in Scandinavia, but throughout the world.
Usage of smartphones and other devices is an important indicator of how society has developed. They affect how we communicate, how we work, how we stay connected, how we interact with each other, how we are entertained, how we use our family time, and how we see ourselves and compare ourselves to others.
In this respect, it is interesting to see that respondents in this year’s survey seem largely indifferent to the introduction or expansion of 5G coverage, with 30 per cent unable to tell the difference between 4G and 5G, and 54 per cent not knowing enough about 5G.
Figure 56. Statements about 5G
Thinking about the rollout of 5G in your country to what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statements? (Respondents who chose “Strongly agree” or “Tend to agree”)
Part of the reason for the lacklustre attitude towards 5G might be that it offers only marginal improvements for consumers who are already able to use streaming services and social platforms in the ways they want to.
Companies on the other hand may use 5G to create new immersive customer experiences, explore virtual or augmented reality, empower the Internet of Things (IOT), and reap the benefits of enhanced mobility.
How consumers will respond to advances in digital technology is unclear. Many things point towards increased use of smartphones: the continued availability of non-stop entertainment, the launch of new social media platforms, and the efforts by companies to create new digital customer experiences, as well as news feeds, gaming and limitless video content.
However, some signs point in the opposite direction, in particular the stated desire by many users to cut back on their use of smartphones and other digital devices, because they think that their devices are too time-consuming and too invasive, and in general do not promote healthy lifestyle habits such as going to bed at a reasonable hour.
Will new generations of consumers dare to turn off their smartphones or say no to a digital avatar – or are they already too addicted to staring at their screens for hours each day?
Could ‘fear of missing out’ one day become ‘joy of missing out’? And will future generations choose not to let a pocket-sized metal case take disproportionate control of their lives?
Only time will tell.