Mobile Technology and it’s Impact on Human Behavior

Mobile Technology is kind of a favorite topic of mine. So when the good folks at PAS invited me to speak at Digit 2.0 about Mobile Technology and how it has impacted human behavior I was more than happy to speak. A short while back I had put together a trends report for a telecom consultancy I had worked for. I covered some of the key insights from that report in my talk and captured the same here.

The sheer scale of mobile penetration is telling of the impact the technology has. Not so long ago the requirements for life were food, shelter and clothing. Now it’s food, shelter, clothing AND a smartphone (yes, not just a mobile phone!). Can you imagine a day without your phone? By phone I would typically mean a mobile device that has high speed internet enabled or iPhone for short :). Do you know how powerful these devices have become? You carry more technology in your hand than all of what NASA had in 1969 with which they went to the moon and back (or maybe that’s why they didn’t!). Either way the power is insane.

When you think of so much power you would assume that it would be limited in it’s reach to only a certain segment of society. Not your mobile phone. With $100 smartphones being produced in China this power is extending to everyone, everywhere. Just for perspective the number of active mobile devices around the world now exceed the human population (i.e. more than 6 billion) and its contribution to the lives of everyday citizens is just enormous. The award winning service from Vodafone mPesa has been a revolution in Africa. For Kenyans a mobile phone not only enabled them to have a mobile bank account where none existed in the real world but it empowered them to a point of being their key means of employment. The net impact of it all? This technology contributed about 48% to the GDP of Kenya. Now that’s power to the people.

And now we are at the cusp of another breakthrough revolution. The number of devices will go far beyond the human population. According to Cisco this number is expected to increase to 50 billion by 2020. 50 billion? Who? Where? How? We are looking at an era when everything around us would be connected to the internet. Have you heard of the plant that tweets when it needs watering. Yup! This is just the beginning. Rise of the Machines is happening…for real!

With this perspective of our today and our not-so-distant tomorrow I covered three insights as to how mobile technology has impacted human behavior. These are terms I have coined myself to capture the concept of what I am trying to say.


Mobile technology is driving people to live more spontaneously. Why? Imagine making a plan to meet someone in the pre-mobile era. You make a plan to meet someone you better make sure you are there on time. Remember the live traffic updates you send now to someone because you are late. “Just around the corner…2 minutes…at the traffic signal…almost there!” This was just not possible. Or shopping for something halfway across the world while at a coffee shop (or worse at a store selling the same type of goods but not what you are looking for!). I remember this time I was looking for an armband for running in Riyadh that would carry my iPhone but couldn’t find it at any of the sports stores. So what did I do? Whipped out my phone, found what I was looking for and placed an order instantly before I even left the mall. The order was from Amazon and I received it within the week!

Human nature is naturally driven to instant gratification. Remember the marshmallow test. “A bird in hand is worth two in the bush.” Given the choice between something instant vs. something delayed, we opt for the instant. With mobile technology this desire for instant gratification is being amplified. Because it is enabling us to do many more things at the spur of the moment, we are expecting the same from everything else in life. This is the biggest overarching behavior change fueled by mobile technology in my opinion.


Another human behavior that has been amplified by mobile technology is the desire for self-expression. Human society is structured around individuality. The individual choice that each person makes enables society to be what it is today. This desire is magnified manifold with mobile technology. The avenues are so many. From the “status” updates on social networks whereby people make a statement of who they are by the choices they make, whether by splurging on a luxury hand bag or traveling to a certain destination. Mobile technology gives us ample opportunity to express ourselves. This tweet captures it well overheard from someone at a Starbucks in China when they cancelled their order! Why? “Instagram is down! It’s useless!” The driver to choose a brand is pretty obvious. Or this tweet by one individual on hearing their ringtone on somebody else’s phone “Someone had the same ringtone as me today. I feel like my identity has been robbed!” Seriously! Mobile technology seems to fulfilling the need to express oneself in multiple ways. From making certain identity choices and displaying them to pursuing endeavors that are enabling recognition and even fame. Just look at the amount of YouTubers who command large audiences with one iPhone playing artist from South Korea getting so popular she actually signed a deal with a music label. The bigger enabler here is internet access but with apps like Vine and Instagram which are mobile only we have seen so many talents claim their fame through them. But it doesn’t stop with the creators of content driven by fame. Through gamification and small badges of recognition many networks are offering social currency to their users and motivating greater usage. At the core the driver for these behaviors is simply self-expression and it’s only expected to increase going forward.


The third big impact on human behavior is the feeling of control that mobile technology imparts on an individual. From certain products like Viper that enable you to remote control your car to smart home solutions that that give you control over every aspect of your home from air conditioning to lighting to security and more. Mobile technology has been empowering individuals in many ways.  Just think about the things you can do with your mobile device now, from knowledge sharing, social networking, photography, video recording, entertainment, gaming, travel planning, mobile banking, navigating, health tracking, money management, task management, office management and the list goes on! All of this is enabling people with greater control of their life and as a result people are feeling more empowered and more independent. Going forward this is the space which is expected to transform even more. Imagine your refrigerator connected to the internet giving you updates on your phone as to what groceries you need and what is running out or how security cams with motion sensors will alert you of any unexpected movements while you are away. As mobile integrates with government infrastructure, as we have already seen in some countries, the role the device will play will multiply. From healthcare services to energy management, the time when medical teams will have real-time access to all your vitals in case of an emergency to how your mobile device will allow you to remotely manage power at your home or workplace to increase efficiency and save energy is not too far away. You can only imagine the kind of empowerment all of this would lead to and the kind of behavior changes you can expect as a result!

This post was inspired by my keynote at Digit 2.0 – a Digital Marketing Conference hosted by the Pakistan Advertisers Society (PAS) in October of this year. The keynote slides from my talk are embedded below if you are interested :).

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