How healthy is your relationship with your smartphone?

ABC projects, Media releases, National Science Week

Are you a slave to your smartphone? Or have you mastered your mobile?

Researchers want your help to build a deeper understanding of our relationship with our smartphones.

Take part in Australia’s Biggest Smartphone Survey—the online project for National Science Week.

How has having a smartphone changed your life?

Has it made your life easier? Or harder? How much time do you spend on it? Does it help you connect (or disconnect) with people? And could you live without it?

Australia’s Biggest Smartphone Survey is asking you to share how you use your smartphone and what impact this ubiquitous device is having on your life.

Psychology researcher Dr Kathryn Modecki from Griffith University, hopes the survey will illustrate how carrying around powerful computers in our pockets is influencing our lives, health, habits and relationships.

“Does having access to the world of knowledge and unlimited social opportunities in the palm of our hands make life better?” she asks. “Get involved with Australia’s Biggest Smartphone Survey and help us find out.”

“I’m a know-it-all, so I love whipping out my smartphone to do some quick fact checking,” says ABC Science writer and broadcaster Bernie Hobbs.

“But there are downsides, like the feeling that thanks to my phone I’m always on call.”

Australia’s Biggest Smartphone Survey is open for two weeks, from 11 – 25 August, and you’re invited to take part.

Join in by heading to the Smartphone Survey website at

All the information collected in the survey will be depersonalised and aggregated to build an overall picture of the relationship Australians have with their smartphones.

But don’t leave it until late in the evening to fill in the survey!

“Our research found that late night phone use directly contributes to poor sleep habits,” says Dr Lynette Vernon, a psychology researcher at Murdoch University.

“This poor sleep makes it harder to function during the daytime and, over time, leads to declines in overall wellbeing and mental health.”

Australia’s Biggest Smartphone Survey is the online national project for National Science Week 2017, undertaken by ABC Science with funding through the Australian Government’s Inspiring Australia strategy.

Seven researchers and science communicators are available for interviews about Australia’s Biggest Smartphone Survey, and how smartphones affect our lives.

To organise interviews, contact Suzannah Lyons on or 0409 689 543, or Tanya Ha on or 0404 083 863

More about the project

Australia’s Biggest Smartphone Survey is an online questionnaire that you can do from the comfort of your own home, or on your phone when you’re out and about. It takes about five to 10 minutes to complete.

The survey will be open from Friday 11 August to Friday 25 August, 2017. Respondents will be asked if they’re interested in participating in the next stage of the project—monitoring their smartphone usage or trying a digital detox.

Preliminary results will be announced in September, and selected participants will embark on a digital detox or having their usage monitored. The full results of Australia’s Biggest Smartphone Survey will be announced on 6 October 2017, in conjunction with the Boyer Lectures.

The findings will inform the future research projects of the scientists involved, and continue the conversation about how our lives are influenced by new technologies.

The Smartphone Survey is being undertaken by ABC Science in conjunction with researchers from Griffith University, Murdoch University and Western Sydney University.

Talent available for interview


  • Dr Kathryn Modecki
    Senior Lecturer, School of Applied Psychology and Menzies Health Institute Queensland at Griffith University and Honorary Fellow, School of Psychology & Exercise Science, Murdoch University
    Dr Kathryn Modecki conducts research on adolescents’ risks, mental health problems, and resilience; a portion of this research uses smartphones to “wire youth in the wild”. Kathryn and her team leverage adolescents’ near-constant use of smartphones to text youth throughout the day, surveying their emotions, wellbeing, and stressors to garner a picture of day-to-day teen life “in vivo”. Smartphones provide a critical research tool because many adolescents and adults alike assert that they “can’t live without their phones”. This connection creates important opportunities for smartphone-based interventions to improve wellbeing and mental health, but also identifiable risks within these same arenas. Further information on Kathryn’s work and recent findings from her team can be found at

  • Dr Lynette Vernon
    Collaborative Post-Doctoral Fellow, School of Psychology & Exercise Science, Murdoch University
    Lynette Vernon is a former teacher, turned psychology researcher. Her PhD in psychology examined mental health and wellbeing of adolescents, particularly in relation to their use of technology and its subsequent impact on sleep. Lynette led the Mobile Phones in the Bedroom study, which was part of a large-scale Australian Research Council-funded project. The project surveyed 1100 students from 29 schools, surveyed annually starting in Year 8 and following them until Year 11. Lynette and her colleagues explored students’ mobile phone use, sleep patterns and mental health over time, and found robust links between night phone use and later poorer mental health.

  • Dr Joanne Orlando
    Senior Lecturer, School of Education, Western Sydney University
    Dr Joanne Orlando explores children’s uses of technology at school, at home and in social spaces. She focuses on all age groups, and aims to provides practical solutions that ensure technology is an empowering part of children’s lives.

  • Dr Philippa Collin
    Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University
    Dr Philippa Collin is an expert in the social, cultural and political dimensions of children and young people’s digital media practices. Over more than 15 years she’s studied the role of digital technologies for young people’s mental health and wellbeing, community and political participation. Philippa’s key areas of inquiry are 12 – 30 year olds, intergenerational and intercultural dynamics of digital media practices and the adoption of digital delivery by services, particularly in the health and mental health sectors.

  • Dr Andrew Campbell
    Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Sydney
    Dr Andrew Campbell has been researching and teaching in the area of e-mental health, cyberpsychology and child, adolescent and family mental health for more than 15 years. He is currently a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Health Sciences. Dr Campbell obtained his PhD in psychology in 2003 and was the first psychologist in Australia to research and publish about the use of the internet for social fearfulness/anxiety self-help. He is often approached to speak in the media on the topic of communication technology and its impact on health and wellbeing (e.g. video game addiction, mobile phone use, youth culture and technology). Dr Campbell has conducted research notably in the area of online therapies for depression and anxiety, AD/HD treatment using bio-feedback videogames and social networking for managing young people’s mental health.


Science communicators

  • Bernie Hobbs, ABC Science
    Bernie Hobbs is an award winning science writer and presenter. She has worked extensively in television (The New Inventors, Catalyst, the experiMENTALS), on radio and online since first joining ABC Science in 1997. She co-presents the podcast Dear Science with Dr Alice Williamson. She can explain how touchscreens work, and why you can use a banana instead of your finger.

  • Ruben Meerman, The Surfing Scientist
    Ruben Meerman is the author of Big Fat Myths which reveals the true fate of fat and lifts the lid on weight loss nonsense. He is a surfer with a physics degree and a passion for all things scientific. Ruben appeared on ABC Television’s flagship science program, Catalyst, Studio 3, Sleek Geeks, Roller Coaster, Triple J’s Super Request, and he was the first ever resident scientist on Play School. He visits hundreds of primary and high schools every year, speaks at conferences, MC’s events, has published hundreds of resources for teachers and written four children’s books full of experiments. Ruben is interested in using smartphones for ‘iSTEM’, using the accelerometers, compass, loudspeaker and camera apps to learn about and even do science.

What kinds of questions will we be asking?

  • How often do you use your smartphone to (for example) look up information to settle an argument, to avoid being bored, or on the toilet?
  • How much do you feel you need to check your smartphone first thing in the morning? Or that your smartphone helps you better organise your social life? Or that you’d rather spend time on my smartphone than exercise?
  • Plus, questions about
    • Smartphone etiquette: what’s acceptable and unacceptable behaviour?
    • Work-related smartphone use outside of work hours
    • Your children’s screen time and use of smartphones
    • Your general health and wellbeing

Never gonna give you up: smartphone facts

  • 2017 marks 30 years since the then Minister for Communications, Michael Duffy, made the first official mobile phone call using an analogue mobile phone. In the years since then, functionality has been added to mobile telephone handsets, leading to the app-filled, camera-enabled, internet-connected smartphones we enjoy today.
  • It’s also 30 years since Rick Astley launched his hit Never gonna give you up—the gift that keeps on giving, thanks to Rickrolling. Some people feel this way about their smartphones.
  • 2017 marks 20 years of National Science Week and 10 years since Apple launched the iPhone.
  • Australia is approaching ‘peak smartphone’ penetration, with an estimated 16 million users currently. Five million handsets are sold each year, and people replace their smartphones on average every three years, according to a 2016 Deloitte report.
  • Australian mobile consumers collectively interact with their smartphone 480 million times a day, says the Deloitte report. That’s an average of 30 times per person per day.
  • The uptake of smartphones is gradually seeing people giving up on landlines, with young people (aged 25 to 34) more likely to be exclusively mobile, according to ACMA.
  • As smartphones get smarter, older models lose their appeal or become obsolete. The Mobile Muster recycling program estimates there is over 23 million unwanted mobiles in homes around Australia—perhaps a target for Australia’s war on waste.
  • Over 95 per cent of the materials used in smartphones and accessories can be recovered through recycling programs. The recoverable materials include copper, gold, silver, nickel, iron, ceramics, and a range of plastics.