The Big Idea: The Way Your iPhone Says A Lot About You

Young Asian woman with iPhone and capuchino in a coffee shop, Tokyo, Japan


This may not come as a surprise to you, but your smartphone reveals a lot about you when you take a close look at the apps, at how it is organized, and how it is used. Don’t believe me? If your smartphone is within reach—no, not when you’re driving! Safety first!—go on and open it up.

No, go ahead. I’ll wait until you get back.

Okay, after opening up your smartphone and poking around it a bit, let me ask you?

  • What’s your wallpaper? Is it the same one that you had when you originally picked up the phone? Is it an image of your significant other? Is it from a recent vacation? Or is it just a memorable moment with friends?
  • What are the first apps you see? Are they productivity apps, or are they games? Or the first apps you see social media apps like Facebook, Snapchat, or Instagram?
  • Are your apps organized by neat groupings or folders, or do you have screen after screen after screen after screen of apps?  

The smartphone is unlike any kind of mobile technology we as a society have ever possessed. It is less of a communications device and more of a secondary identification as well as a psychological profile of you as a person. Do you trust technology? If you have apps for banking and financial planning then yes, you are the sort of person who has faith in the latest technology. What if your apps are predominantly games? What does that say about your regard for technology? Probably that you find your mobile device less of a project manager and day planner, and more of a diversion or means of escape when you have some downtime.

Then there are your behaviors with the phone itself. Are your apps organized in a specific way, or would they appear simply in the order that you downloaded them? An organized iOS or Android OS tells the world you like specific places for your things, thereby making them easier to find; or that you know where everything is provided no one moves anything. Are you the type to respond to every single text immediately? And are your social media apps front and center? That is a reflection on what kind of communicator you are, and may even offer a glimpse at how extroverted or introverted you are. Speaking of social graces and comfort levels, are you capable of putting your smartphone down for hours and just forgetting about it even though it is flashing and buzzing and beeping, or do you feel attached to your device?

All these details. About you. From a device that fits in the palm of your hand.

Little girl with ponytails using cell phone in the park.

A new study appearing in Psychonomic Bulletin from psychologists Dr. Henry Wilmer and Dr. Jason Chein of Temple University, suggests that the more people check their devices, the more impulsive they are in their everyday lives. Dr. Wilmer and Chein worked with 91 undergraduate students in assessing how often they used their mobile devices to update social media, browse the Internet, interact with friends, or simply use it as a phone. When they tested students’ ability to delay gratification, like asking them whether they’d prefer a small sum of money now or would you wait for a few days for a larger amount, those that were always fiddling with their devices, could not wait. They wanted it now.

The researchers also assessed students’ sensitivity to rewards by having them rate how greatly they identified with statements like, “I’ll try anything once,” and, “I like wild and uninhibited parties.”

It would be easy enough to dismiss this as “college kids” and the indestructibility we tend to feel at that age, but there might also be a somewhat honest reflection what we, a society quite accustomed now to that notion of getting what we need either through an app or just in a quick download, have grown accustomed to. It was something I was thinking about when watching the film Steve Jobs. Actor Michael Fassbender not only reminded us of the prickly nature of the man behind Apple, he also reminded me of the incredible innovation and demanding standards that Jobs had for whatever Apple produced. The iMac. The iPod. And yes, the iPhone. But would Job be able to continue that sort of demand from his people now, in a society where we expect everything yesterday? I’d like to think so, but in the recent mixed reception of the iPhone 7, I can’t help but wonder what Jobs would think.

What about you? What does your smartphone say about you?



shurtz.jpgA research physicist who has become an entrepreneur and educational leader, and an expert on competency-based education, critical thinking in the classroom, curriculum development, and education management, Dr. Richard Shurtz is the president and chief executive officer of Stratfdord University. He has published over 30 technical publications, holds 15 patents, and is host of the weekly radio show, Tech Talk. A noted expert on competency-based education, Dr. Shurtz has conducted numerous workshops and seminars for educators in Jamaica, Egypt, India, and China, and has established academic partnerships in China, India, Sri Lanka, Kurdistan, Malaysia, and Canada.




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