I have a vivid memory of walking into a Tweetup about four years ago at an MPI conference and seeing every single person with their heads down, immersed in whatever was happening on their smartphone. Having been connected to these people in the virtual world for months and even years, I was excited to finally get some face-to-face interaction. Sadly, people couldn't break away.
Smartphone addiction is a real thing. According to WebMD:
- 70% said they check their smartphone within an hour of getting up.
- 56% check their phone within an hour of going to sleep.
- 48% check over the weekend, including on Friday and Saturday nights.
- 51% check continuously during vacation.
- 44% said they would experience "a great deal of anxiety" if they lost their phone and couldn't replace it for a week.
I admit that for me, it's become a big issue. I do, in fact, sleep with my phone. I check it 10 seconds after I checked it. I look at it in line at the grocery store and when stopped in traffic. I get the shakes if I am at a meal with others and I *shouldn't* be looking.
A part of this addiction is the phenomenon known as Fear of Missing Out, or FOMO. People experience actual anxiety that their lives are not as exciting as other people's and they embrace voyeurism. This is fueled by social media posts that are strategically written to make people think that their lives are more interesting than others. As planners, our greatest joy is when people are jealous that they are not at our event. For us, FOMO is a good thing.
As event organizers, we want our attendees present. We don’t want their noses buried in their phones. We want them talking and engaging with attendees, sponsors and speakers. We want them focused on learning.
But wait. We want them to do all of this and still use a mobile app to view agendas, take surveys and check out sponsorship information. Does this mean that event organizers are encouraging the smartphone addition? Are we sabbotaging our own goals of connecting people by asking them to use an app at their event?
Smart integration of mobile apps into events doesn't focus on the app. Instead, it uses the app to make the experience better and to facilitate face-to-face interactions. Here are ways to promote "healthy" smartphone use to maximize onsite engagement.
- Use the app to help people find sessions easier, make it easier for people to meet-up in person.
- Help them get the information they need to decide if they want to meet with a particular vendor.
- Use polls to give more people a chance to hear from and interact with the speaker.
- Create incentives for them to have real conversation onsite and take photos. Reward people for quality interactions.
- Design non-digital spaces where people can take a time out.
There is no denying that the 24/7 access to information and community is a blessing and a curse. As always, figuring out where technology fits in and where it doesn't make sense can lead to a more successful event.