Connected devices are an integral part of everyday life. Some tech and entertainment devices—such as smartphones, laptop and desktop computers, tablets, and smart TVs—are owned by most households and used daily by most owners (figure 2.1, upper-right quadrants). Gaming consoles are owned by just over half of households and are used daily by nearly half of owners; we’re likely to see them shift into the upper-right quadrant in the next year or two.1 Other devices—such as smartwatches, fitness trackers, and voice-enabled smart speakers—haven’t yet been adopted by a majority of households, but most respondents who own them use them every day. A third group of more specialized devices—including connected exercise equipment, e-readers, and virtual reality headsets—haven’t secured a foothold in most households and aren’t yet used daily; time will tell whether they become more popular.
For many people, devices are essential to how they socialize and communicate. In fact, 40% of our survey respondents said they interact more with people through their devices than in the physical world—and that’s true for over half of Gen Zs and nearly half of Millennials (figure 2.2). Nearly two-thirds (64%) of respondents reported their devices help them build meaningful connections with others, whether friends, family, or people with similar interests; more than seven in 10 Gen Zs and millennials feel the same way.
With high usage of voice and video calls, social networks, and messaging apps, it may not be surprising that 80% of smartphone users say the devices help them feel very or somewhat connected to others. What may be more surprising is that a majority of gaming console and connected exercise equipment users—and four in 10 smartwatch/fitness tracker users—also say those devices help them feel very or somewhat connected to other people. On gaming devices, playing multiplayer games, chatting, and sharing game content and clips can all promote connection. Connected exercise equipment can foster a feeling of connection through live streaming, on-demand classes, and leaderboards; and smartwatches and fitness trackers can encourage connection through competitions, challenge groups, leaderboards, and activity sharing. Gen Zs outpace other generations when it comes to feeling connected to others through their gaming consoles (74%) and smartwatches or fitness trackers (64%).
Three-quarters of our survey respondents believe their connected devices have a positive impact on their lives, enhancing convenience, comfort, enjoyment, and safety. Younger generations expressed the most favorable view, with 84% of Gen Zs and 83% of Millennials reporting that their devices have a positive impact, versus 76% of Gen X, 69% of Boomers, and 55% of the cohort we call “Matures” (born in 1946 or earlier). More than eight in 10 respondents say their devices save time and keep them informed, while seven in 10 say devices enable new experiences that they wouldn’t otherwise have.
When it comes to digital devices—how many a household owns and how much time is spent on them—consumers signal that they may be reaching their comfort limit. The number of connected devices in the average household now stands at 21—down from the pandemic peak of 25 in 2021. Although they have continued to buy new devices, primarily replacing aging ones, most consumers haven’t been expanding their collections.
Current economic unease may be one factor, with pocketbooks only opening so far. But another likely reason is that the significant time spent on devices raises concerns relating to tech fatigue and well-being.
Just as we noted in our 2022 report, people continue to feel frustrated by the complexity of managing their digital lives. Forty-one percent of consumers revealed that they dislike managing their devices (for example, updating software, handling security, or fixing problems). Twenty-eight percent said they’re overwhelmed by the devices and subscriptions they need to manage—an uptick from 24% in 2022 but not quite reaching the 32% we saw in 2021, when households had even more devices. Adults aged 18–40 are feeling more overwhelmed (37%) than older generations (23%) (figure 2.3). Some of this sentiment may stem from 18- to 40-year-olds managing a larger collection of household devices (26 on average) than older generations (18 on average).
The struggle to control screen time is another sign of tech fatigue and has implications for well-being. Studies have highlighted the potential negative impacts of too much screen time on children and adolescents, including disturbed sleep, increased rates of obesity, and poor stress regulation.2 There is less research on how excessive screen time may affect adults—but some studies point to eye strain, impaired sleep, and worsened mental health.3 With screen time estimated to be up 60–80% from prepandemic levels, any potential negative consequences are likely to be exacerbated.4 Overall, 38% of our respondents said they’re struggling to limit their screen time to a level they feel comfortable with—on par with 2022—but this view is much more pronounced among 18- to 40-year-olds (53%) than older generations (29%) (figure 2.3).
Many device users are concerned about potential adverse effects of too much digital time on their well-being: Overall, 39% of our respondents worry that their device usage may negatively affect their physical well-being (for example, causing them to be more sedentary and spend less time exercising), and one-third were concerned that their device usage may negatively affect their emotional well-being (for example, contribute to feelings of anxiety or depression). Our survey analysis uncovered a link between screen time struggles and well-being concerns: Six in 10 of those who feel they spend too much time on screens worry about the effects on their physical and emotional well-being, while just two in 10 of those who say they don’t struggle with screen time express the same worries.
With that said, nearly three-quarters of respondents overall (73%) reported they’re not concerned that their device usage may be harming their social connections and engagement in the physical world. However, 40% of those who said they interact more through their devices than in the physical world do express this worry. As with tech fatigue, 18- to 40-year-olds are more likely to worry about well-being and social harm than older generations (figure 2.3).
In “Consumers seek the ‘just right’ balance between digital and physical worlds,” we take a look at measures consumers take to place boundaries on their digital activities, and we also examine how parents can help their teens find a healthy balance. The sentiment that excess device usage may impact well-being creates opportunities for device and app makers to amplify features that can help. Consumers must typically search for settings and configure usage limits manually; tech companies could assist by providing automatic reminders about screen time and prompts to take digital breaks.