People Are Judging Time, Distance Not By Minutes or Kilometers, But By Their Phone’s Battery Life


Oct 4, 2019


Time is often a matter of perception — and a new study suggests the way humans perceive time is changing, all thanks to the tiny battery icon on our mobile phones.

“People no longer think about their destination being 10 kilometers away or 10 stops on the tube. They think about it being 50% of their battery away,” Thomas Robinson, Ph.D., of Cass Business School in London, said in a statement. Robinson is the lead author of the study published in the journal Marketing Theory.

Robinson bases this conclusion on a survey of London commuters, who overwhelming described orienting their lives to get from one charging point to the next.

“Full [battery icon on the phone] would be ‘Yeah, ok great, good to go for the day’; 50% I’d be a bit ‘Oh God, I had better stop it from updating itself all the time in the background’ … then it would be at 30% and I would be like, ‘Now I’m not having fun anymore,'” one respondent said.

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And as the influence of phone battery life has changed the way we measure, it has also assumed greater influence in the way we judge people, the study found. Just as being perpetually tardy was once a social solecism, now, being unreliable with your phone charging is offensive. Respondents who monitor their phone’s battery life closely and measure time and distances off it described themselves as “control freaks,” “quite anal,” “planners,” and “a bit OCD.” They described people who regularly allowed their batteries to drain as “frightfully frustrating,” “disorganized,” and “inconsiderate.”

It’s a small survey of a specific type of person, and yet, it feels indicative of us all. Who hasn’t panicked at the knowledge that their phone would die long before they reach a destination? Still, what’s more interesting is what’s left unanswered by this study — are we more panicked at the possibility of being cut off from communication, once the phone dies, or at being cut off from entertainment?


Written By Liesl Goecker

Liesl Goecker is The Swaddle’s managing editor.


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