Permanently online, permanently connected

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always online

With the development of smart devices and social media, now we can connect with others very easily.

This causes a striking change in our behavior: instead of using smart devices during a few hours every day, many people, in particular young adults and adolescents, are online and connected with others almost all the time.

So what do they do when they are permanently online and permanently connected (PO/PC)? What are the causes and consequences of the behavior?

A recent study published in Computer in Human Behavior answered the question.

PO/PC includes long-time use of electronic media and permanent communicative vigilance. The latter means the user is alert to react to any new messages, new tweets, new videos, new posts, etc.

Researchers invited 178 college students to finish an online survey. The questions were about how they use smartphones and tablets to stay on the Internet and connect with others.

For example, some questions were about how often they read, listen, or watch content from the Internet, and some questions were about how often they send messages, use Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, SMS, or speaking with others on the phone.

Researchers examined the PO/PC behaviors in 13 social situations, such as in classroom, when home alone, at a restaurant with a friend or partner, when standing in line, when waiting for someone, on public transportation, while driving, others using smart devices in front of me, and when in an intimate moment with partner (e.g., cuddling or having sex).

Among the participants, Android smartphones were most popular, followed by iPhones and tablets.

About 85% of students used the Internet very frequently. 49% used mobile devices several times per hour, and 7% used mobile devices once every 10 min.

PO/PC usually occurred in waiting situations, on public transportation, or when students were home alone.

During the night, 61% of students turned on their devices with full functions, and only 9% turned off the devices. In addition, more than 2/3 of students preferred to sleep close to their devices.

As for device use, students were more likely to be connected with others via smart devices than to check things on the Internet.

Interestingly, participants had mixed feelings about being PO/PC. Some felt satisfied, whereas others felt stressed or a lack of well-being.

When they had a temporary absence of the Internet access, many felt that something important was missing (“naked”, “empty”, “like an organ is missing”). On the other hand, some reported relaxing, refreshing, and peaceful feelings.

Researchers also found that students in a romantic relationship showed lower PO/PC scores than students without a romantic partner.

Researchers suggest that PO/PC changes people’s communicative habits. Future work will see how people deal with conflicts and obey social rules in PO/PC situations.


Citation: Vorderer P, Krömer N, Schneider FM. (2016). Permanently online – Permanently connected: Explorations into university students’ use of social media and mobile smart devices. Computers in Human Behavior, 63: 694-703.
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