April 21 is "Mobilegeddon," or the day Google says it will turn on a new algorithm focused on mobile users. The topic may sound like it's too "inside baseball," but as noted in our post Think of the smartphone as society’s new glue, people are using their phones for everything now. In fact, many people aren't even bothering with computers anymore. If your Google searches are among the 29 percent that are now done on the phone, you'll notice that they might look better, with bigger text and easier to press buttons. If you read MNN or TreeHugger on your phone, you may have noticed that the sites are running a bit faster as they got mobile-ized. But that's just the start. 

phone ownership graphic

The Economist calls Mobilegeddon "a rather obscure technical change," but it's a lot more than that. Google is just following the user trend — from the fixed station to the laptop to the very mobile computer in your smartphone. It is recognizing the change in the way we use computers. According to a recent Pew study, nearly two thirds of Americans now have smartphones, and an amazing 85 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 have them. 

And they're aren't just using their phones for texting and talking. According to Pew, “Smartphones serve as an access point for navigating a wide array of important life events, from health conditions to new jobs.” They are also becoming indispensable to us — 46 percent say their smartphone is something “they couldn’t live without.” They're also using them at home and at work, not just when they're on the move. 

Pew notes that phones are used primarily to coordinate with others, to avoid boredom and to set up reminders and coordinate life logistics; young people in particular use the phone for an unusual purpose: to avoid people. (Sort of like hiding in a book used to be.)

Younger users stand out especially prominently when it comes to using their phones for two purposes in particular: avoiding boredom, and avoiding people around them. Fully 93% of 18-29 year old smartphone owners used their phone at least once to avoid being bored, with respondents in this age group reporting doing so during the previous hour in an average of 5.4 surveys over the one-week study period. Similarly, 47% of young smartphone owners used their phone to avoid interacting with the people around them at least once during the study period.
Pew also found that smartphones make the majority of people feel productive and happy. Smartphones are certainly changing our lives, the way we deal with people and things around us. 

Everybody loves to quote Wayne Gretzky: “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” But in this case, that’s exactly what Google is doing, preparing for the coming time when the phone is our computer.

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Lloyd Alter ( @lloydalter ) writes about smart (and dumb) tech with a side of design and a dash of boomer angst.