What I Don't Know

Phoned Out: Why we checked our phones 4 Trillion times in 2017

Quick: how many times a day do you check your mobile device?

50? 100? 200?

The truth is probably double your estimate.

Americans check their phones 12 Billion times a day. 6 Billion of these instances last less than 30 seconds, likely done out of habit instead of necessity.

Since you’re reading What I Don’t Know, I won’t pretend to have answers for the big, obvious questions (in order):

  • What should we call this behavior? Compulsive phone checking” and “phoned out” are the closest terms I’ve encountered, but nothing seems widely accepted.
  • Why exactly do we do this? Escaping discomfort/boredom, craving dopamine and plain old compulsion all seem to play a role.
  • Have humans ever fractured a limited and precious resource (our attention) at this scale?What are the long term, second-order consequences of this behavior?


To develop awareness of, study, and manage the trillions of times we’ll check our phones in 2018, I have some suggestions.

Here’s what we should label this behavior:

Phoned Out: To zone out by compulsively using your cell phone
Phoned Out: Simpsons Already Did It

Start noticing when you Phone Out, and call it that. Notice when others do it, especially loved ones that may not know when they’re Phoning Out. Tag someone here who needs to add this term to their dictionary.

obligatory xkcd reference

Do you have a better idea? An answer to the questions above? Drop ’em in a comment below!