Monday, May 22, 2017

Do we love devices more than our pets?

Would we really choose phones over animals?

Do we love devices more than our pets? At SAT we tend to avoid press releases, but an interesting one hit our inbox on the weekend. Aquarium Software surveyed Aussies and found that one quarter of Australians would miss their mobile more than their pets.


The release states that a UK survey found that 63 per cent of Brits would grieve their pets as they would a family member. But does this mean that more of them prefer their pets over devices to Aussies?

Not exactly.

“We are all in love with our mobile devices, but our research suggests that pet parents in the UK love their pets as much as ever,” said Aquarium Software VP Sales and Marketing, Mark Colonnese. “The results from Down Under are worrying at first glance, but I would expect a very different answer if the survey had been worded slightly differently.”

Absolutely. My feeling (though I don’t have a survey to back it up) is that we are so reliant on our devices that losing them would produce severe stress. Probably a different kind of stress than losing an animal. Did the survey ask if people had to choose which they kept – their companion or a device – who or which would they choose?

But the survey does raise valid concerns about the human-animal bond in the digital age. We don’t need to choose between our devices and our companions as such, although we do need to consider how much we are paying attention to each. Despite their constant haranguing, devices don’t actually need our attention – though we tend to them as if they do.

In a lovely book called “How to Thrive In the Digital Age”, Tom Chatfield wrote about exactly this.

“In coffee shops and living rooms, personal digital devices are handled with a solicitude and frequency that might once have been reserved for a partner or favourite pet. For a generation of so-called digital natives, a mobile phone is often the first thing you touch when you wake up in the morning and the last thing you touch when you go to bed at night.” p12

There are plenty of apps designed to tell us just how much we use our devices. What if there were an equivalent that can tell us just how much time we spend with our non-human companions? And would we change our behaviour in the light of the findings?

A few years ago I gave students an exercise to log the time they spent with their companions vs mobile phones. The phones won hands-down. But when we looked at the type of interactions they had with animals, these students were spending plenty of time engaged in quality interactions with them.

Devices like phones can also be used to improve animal welfare, with apps like DogLogBook to measure and note trends in quality of life.

Perhaps there is hope after all?


“How to Thrive in the Digital Age” by Tom Chatfield/The School of Life. London: MacMillan 2012