Smartphone Battery Icons Have Changed Our Perception of Time and Space, Study Claims


A new study from Cass Business School in London claims that the battery icons on our phones have changed how we perceive time and space.

Battery icons affect not only our mood and how we behave, but even how we perceive the world around us. The study’s lead author, Dr Thomas Robinson, explained that “people no longer think about their destination being 10 km away or 10 stops on the tube. They think about it being 50 per cent of their battery away”:

During interviews respondents discussed how a full battery gauge made them feel positive and as though they could go anywhere or do anything. Anything less than half full, however, induced feelings of profound anxiety and discomfort

In the abstract of the article, Robinson and his fellow author Eric Arnould said that “charge levels on battery icons not only structure daily patterns of consumer life through planning efforts,” but also “become interpretively entangled in issues of duration, distance and sociality as energy demands in portable technology push consumers to avoid disruption.”

One respondent to the study described how their battery level affected their mood throughout the day:

Full would be “Yeah, ok great, good to go for the day”; 50 per cent 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 per cent and I would be like: “Now I’m not having fun anymore”.

The study found that because of how crucial our phones are to 21st Century life, we now identify ourselves by how often we check our battery icons. People who were constantly checking their levels described themselves as “control freaks,” “quite anal,” “planners,” and “a bit OCD.” Anyone who regularly let their phones completely ran out of charge were described as “frightfully frustrating,” “disorganised,” and “inconsiderate.”

Robinson said that they found anyone who let their batteries run out were “viewed by others as out of touch with the social norm of being connected and therefore unable to be competent members of society”:

Phones have become such a nexus for everything that we are that an inability to effectively manage battery life becomes symbolic of an inability to manage life.