02:08 - Source: CNN
Open Mic: Is cell phone dependency bad?

Story highlights

With people using smartphones to kill down time, some say boredom is declining

Survey: 42 percent use mobile phones expressly to cure being bored

Researcher says phones address an ancient desire to stay occupied

Some fear phones can interfere with creativity, though

CNN —  

Take a look around today at people in line at Starbucks, on the train platform or waiting for their bags at the airport.

Odds are, a huge chunk of them are staring down into a glowing mobile device – passing time by checking on friends, catching up on texts or e-mail or playing a video game that would have required a PC or home console just a few years ago.

“That’s me,” said Jeromie Williams, a 36-year-old social media manager and blogger from Montreal. “If I’m on the bus. If I’m waiting in line somewhere … .

“The other day I was at a restaurant with a friend. He got up two times – once to smoke a cigarette and once to go to the bathroom. As soon as his ass was off the seat, ‘Boom!’ iPhone in hand.”

Opinion: Going a day without my cell phone

Thanks to technology, there’s been a recent sea change in how people today kill time. Those dog-eared magazines in your doctor’s office are going unread. Your fellow customers in line at the deli counter are being ignored. And simply gazing around at one’s surroundings? Forget about it.

Between smartphones, tablets and e-readers, we’re becoming a society that’s ready to kill even a few seconds of boredom with a tap on a touchscreen.

Smartphone ownership in the United States, and elsewhere, hit a tipping point in 2012. More people now own a smartphone in the United States – 45% of adults – than own a traditional cellphone, according to a survey from the Pew Internet & American Life project.

And 42% of all mobile phone users say they expressly use their phone for entertainment when they’re bored. (Presumably, non-entertainment uses like texting and e-mail would jack that number up even higher).

“I do everything with my phone,” said Alexandra Reed, 39, a self-employed single mom from Charlotte, North Carolina.

“I have five e-mail accounts for different things. I have two phones, one for business and one personal. I use apps – Mapquest, Google, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google Plus, CNN, ESPN … .”

Is it a boredom killer? Absolutely, she said.

“Even when I’m driving, I might have Facebook open,” she said. “At a red light the first thing I (do is) just look at my phone. I get a little anxious if I see a notification and don’t read it.”

Researchers say this all makes sense. Fiddling with our phones, they say, addresses a basic human need to cure boredom by any means necessary.

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Christopher Lynn, an anthropology professor at the University of Alabama, compares tapping at smartphones to smoking a cigarette. Both can be “pivots,” he says – things that quickly transfer us from the monotony of everyday life into a world of “unscheduled play.”

“Smartphones are like cigarettes are like junk food are like chewing your nails or doodling …,” Lynn w