Last of the millennials

19+ Worldview survey: My phone, my world

Mr Ikhsan Fandi, who is based in Norway, says he checks for updates on social media every few minutes and often chats with his siblings on social media, like when they post pictures on Instagram.
Mr Ikhsan Fandi, who is based in Norway, says he checks for updates on social media every few minutes and often chats with his siblings on social media, like when they post pictures on Instagram.PHOTO: IKHSAN FANDI/INSTAGRAM

National footballer Ikhsan Fandi never turns off his phone, not even before a big game

For many young people, the first thing they reach for when they wake up, and the last thing they see before going to bed, is their mobile phone.

In fact, nine in 10 of them do just that, according to a survey recently conducted by The Straits Times in partnership with the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) of a group of 19-year-olds, or those born in 1999.

The survey also found that most of the respondents use their phones for five to six hours a day; with the women spending close to one hour more than men.

National footballer Ikhsan Fandi, who falls in that age group, is just like his peers in that regard - when he is not on the pitch, he is on his phone, he said. He likes being connected to his friends and family, from whom he lives apart.

"Life without my phone would be really hard... I think I could survive without my phone only on the condition that all my friends don't have their phones too, so I don't feel disconnected," he said in a recent interview with ST from Raufoss, Norway, where he is based.

Mr Ikhsan, who turned 20 last month, is the second son of local football legend Fandi Ahmad. He relocated earlier this year after signing a two-year contract with Norwegian football team Raufoss.

He said: "I'm always on my phone - I check for updates on social media every few minutes."

He does not ever switch off his iPhone XS. Even if it is before a big game, he uses it to listen to music.

And he prefers texting to calling, just like others his age. The survey found the most frequently used phone function was messaging, followed by social media, the alarm clock, phone calls and music.

The footballer often chats with his siblings on social media, like when they post pictures on Instagram, for example. The photo-sharing app is his top app, followed by Snapchat and WhatsApp.

Mr Ikhsan has more than 72,000 followers on Instagram, and can be called an influencer, or a personality who has been able to monetise his popularity on social media.

 
 

According to the survey, three in five respondents follow social media influencers.

About 20 per cent of respondents also said they prefer interacting through social media rather than face-to-face, while a third said they would feel lost if they had no access to social media for a day.

SUSS' School of Humanities and Behavioural Sciences senior lecturer Razwana Begum Abdul Rahim said mobile phones may have become a symbol of social status for the younger generation.

"They view the mobile phone as an investment and a symbolic representation of self... From their perspective, the appearance, accessories and features of the phone increase their social status."

Phones are no longer just another technology invention, she added, they also serve as a tool to organise and maintain social networks.

But she cautioned against dependency on and overuse of phones, which "intrude into family time and take away intimate moments to bond and connect".


Social background and phone usage

A survey of more than 1,000 people born in 1999 found that those from lower socio-economic status (SES) families spend at least an hour more a day on their phones than those from higher SES backgrounds.

Overall mobile phone usage patterns suggested overuse could be associated with disadvantaged segments.

A 19-year-old Temasek Polytechnic student, who declined to be named and whose parents are divorced, said she spends about seven to eight hours on her phone each day.

She lives with her father, sister, grandmother and great-grandmother, and her family is considered to be of a lower SES. "When I'm home, I'm on my phone scrolling through social media or watching videos, so those contribute a lot to my screen time," she said.

"My family and I tend to stay in our individual rooms so there's not much interaction."

Dr Brian Lee, head of the communication programme at SUSS' School of Humanities and Behavioural Sciences, said such behaviour has been seen in American households.

A 2015 study in the US suggested lower-income households "use the most media across traditional and emerging media" despite high-income families owning more devices.

Dr Lee suggested this trend could be due to parents from lower SES families being less aware of the dangers of excessive digital media usage.

Assistant Professor Saifuddin Ahmed of the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at Nanyang Technological University also said the findings were not surprising.

He said individuals of a higher SES, especially younger adults, "usually display a sense of disinterest towards the relational aspect of social media... probably because they have other social resources". 

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 12, 2019, with the headline 'My phone, my world'. Print Edition | Subscribe