My View

An essay series in which different authors analyze the chronological survey data

Chance Encounters in the Smartphone Age

Researcher, Hakuhodo Institute of Life and Living

Ruri Sogo

Seikatsu Teiten is a proprietary fixed-point observation survey conducted every other year since 1992 by the Hakuhodo Institute of Life and Living (in Japanese). We recently released the results of the 2016 survey. Seikatsu Teiten Survey–My View is an essay series in which different authors share insights and discoveries resulting from their analysis of the Seikatsu Teiten data.

When we have a few moments to spare–while waiting for a friend, or taking a short train ride–the first thing many of us do is take out our smartphones. In those brief interludes, we check social media for updates, catch up on trending news at curation sites, or maybe even go back to a favorite game. Looking around you, you’ll probably notice that most people are staring intently into screens cradled in the palms of their hands. I’m as guilty of this as anyone.

Today, let’s take a look at what data from the Seikatsu Teiten Survey tells us about how we live with smartphones.

Beginning in 2010, the Seikatsu Teiten Survey has asked respondents to describe the types of information devices or services they use. Results show that smartphone ownership has increased rapidly across all age groups (20s through to 60s), and in 2016, ownership rates approached those for computers. We now live in a world in which being able to access any information we want, whenever and wherever, is becoming normal.

We are also placing greater emotional significance on smartphones. Survey respondents who believe that their mobile phone or smartphone is an essential tool in their daily lives continue to grow at a rapid rate, although their number is still less than the total population of smartphone owners.

When it comes to shopping, around 40% of respondents in their 20s through 40s say that they tend to check review sites on the internet before making a purchase. Instant access to information in the Age of the Smartphone has created a value assessment style that begins with an internet search–and this style appears to be here to stay.

In 1998, when the Seikatsu Teiten Survey began, 51.6% of respondents indicated that they’d like to take a trip on the spur of the moment (without planning it ahead of time). The number has continued to decline, and in the latest survey (2016), only 36.9% of respondents expressed a similar desire. In an age when the barriers to information access are so low, opting against risk is much easier. The idea of not making plans, or not gathering information from review sites, could conceivably be considered something only for the brave.

We now have complete control over the information we choose to see–another factor that shields us from “chance encounters.” What we see on the internet is limited to what we find when we search for a specific topic on a search engine, and by the content posted by people we choose to follow on social media. Naturally, we tend not to follow genres in which we have no interest or follow people who have opinions that differ from our own, so we don’t have the opportunity to encounter any of that content. Without realizing it, we have filtered the world that we see through our smartphones to match our own interests.

Although a filtered world is a very comfortable one, it can sometimes feel claustrophobic.It may not be a problem if you’re the type of person with endless streams of creativity,but more and more it can feel as if you’restuck in a rut and you find yourself wondering, “Is there something new out there that I’m missing?”

When I start to feel that way, I try to put myself in situations that allow me to experience new things. Below are the (relatively commonplace) methods I use:

(1) Create an opportunity to engage with an expert in an area that you know nothing about

Listen to a lecture by an expert, or have regular contact with friends who work in fields completely different from my own.

(2) Act on a recommendation

I’ve used this method to find many of my favorite books, and they often inspire my work.

(3) Follow a social media account on a topic you’ve previously had no interest in.

On many occasions I’ve been surprised to discover new ideas and ways of thinking.

(4) Rather than buying your favorite brand, try one you know nothing about.

I’ve even come across new trends this way.

(5) Take a different road, shop at a different store, or eat at a different restaurant

Different types of people gather in different places, which is fascinating in and of itself.

We have endless options at the tips of our internet-connected fingers, but if we don’t pay attention we can easily miss out on new discoveries lying just beyond the borders of our narrow worlds.

Incidentally, a handful of services designed to help you experience “chance” encounters have appeared. In France, for example, an app that allows users to chat with people that they’ve just passed on the street has been a huge hit. Perhaps the app’s success can be attributed in part to the serendipity inherent in chance encounters.

While only a few services currently offer users the opportunity for chance encounters with products, I imagine that things would become quite interesting if more were available. Although there might be a significant emotional barrier to buying a product you just happened to stumble across, it might be a different story when it comes to sharing or borrowing. The fashion industry already supports services that let users rent clothing for a flat monthly rate.

Learning to change your filter from time to time can help make you a more creative person –and creativity makes life more fun.

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