Will digital addiction clinics be big in 2013?

Clockwise, from left: Woman wearing Google Glass, news app on a smartphone, a Twitter feed on a tablet, and a phone payment system

Mobile and social media are the driving forces of the next wave of digital change. But these advances are reducing our attention spans and creating new dilemmas for the way we live and work, says Nic Newman.

It used to be the case that British people had a reputation for buttoned-up restraint.

Today we are some of the most active social networkers in the world - sharing our party pictures, our music playlists and our deepest secrets with hardly a moment's thought. More than 60% of online users actively maintain a Facebook profile, and social networking is our favourite activity online in terms of time spent.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee's tweet to the world at the Olympics opening ceremony was a reminder that social networking is now a key part of our national culture. Twitter usage has jumped rapidly again this year to about 10 million active users, with David Cameron, Hugh Grant and Gary Lineker among the new recruits.

Start Quote

This is for everyone”

End Quote

And in terms of mobile, the UK now leads the world in its use of data. It overtook Japan in 2012, according to Ofcom.

There is, of course, a link between the two. More than 40% of that mobile activity is driven by social networking, in addition to downloading videos, shopping and consuming timely information such as news and sport.

With record smartphone sales in the run-up to Christmas and new 4G services launching in the UK by the summer, the stage is now set for faster and more reliable connection speeds and a new generation of mobile products and services.

So what will the potent combination of social and mobile bring in 2013? Here are seven trends to watch out for:

1. The mobile wallet

Person using contactless payment phone app

Increasing amounts of our life will be controlled with our mobiles in 2013. One by one, bank cards, loyalty cards, travel cards and boarding passes are being sucked out of our physical wallets and becoming integrated into smartphone software.

On the one hand this is driving convenience and greater transparency. On the other, the implications of losing your mobile have never been greater - and smartphone theft is on the rise.

Expect a new wave of sophisticated apps that can locate your phone even if on silent - complete with James Bond-style capabilities to destroy your device while protecting your passwords and identity.

2. Stand by for mobile ads

Start Quote

At least one social network will offer a premium service without ads”

End Quote

More than 10% of consumer time is spent with the mobile phone but only 1% of advertising is spent this way. This gap will close in 2013 but the results may not be pretty.

Watch out for intrusive new advertising formats on mobile and social websites, text and other push advertising, location-based special promotions linked to shopping in particular, and a growing number of sponsored messages.

Expect some kind of backlash against commercial activity in this most personal space with new rows over privacy and the selling of personal data. There'll be a new breed of mobile ad blockers and at least one social network will offer a premium service with an ad-free experience this year.

3. Celebrity spam

Will.i.am using phone

It's not just advertisers trying to make friends. Recording artist and talent show judge Will.i.am broke a taboo in 2012 by using his mobile to tweet during a live edition of The Voice. He later posted this message: "It may seem odd me tweeting... but trust me... this will be the norm one day & people are going to copy it."

Celebrities are increasingly setting up their own direct routes of communication with fans and will be looking to exploit these further with social media messages, mobile apps and text alerts.

Instead of fans hounding celebrities, this year could see the opposite phenomenon in the digital space. Broadcasters are already enlisting stars to send "in character" text messages before, during and after television dramas to give true fans an extra dimension of experience.

4. Global megaphone for gossip

The combination of mobile and social media has increased the speed with which both genuine news and malicious gossip can spread around the world.

Lord Justice Leveson has called for new laws to end what he calls "mob rule" and "trial by Twitter". Expect to see more unsuccessful attempts by politicians and lawyers to tame the internet but also a gradual realisation that what is said on social media is not beyond the law.

Look out for high-profile Twitter and Facebook prosecutions along with new social media education programmes in schools and workplaces.

5. Mobile and social news

Journalists tweeting updates

About a third of all traffic to leading news websites such as the BBC now comes from smartphones, and this trend is beginning to change the type of news we are consuming and the rate at which we do it.

Live blogs - short updates that incorporate the backchat from social media - are becoming increasingly popular for news and sport but younger people in particular are increasingly ignoring traditional sites and getting their news directly from links in their Twitter or Facebook streams.

A trend to watch in 2013 is the growth of social video services like ThisNewsNow - a mobile-first service with a focus on short viral videos and a new informal style.

6. Digital addiction clinics

Start Quote

New opportunities, then, for internet-free rural retreats”

End Quote

Related to the above, you may have noticed that your partner has been checking the football scores at the dinner table or sharing a joke on Facebook with friends half the way across the world.

More and more of us are becoming addicted to the real-time stream so that we are losing the art of conversation and quiet reflection.

This year brands and phone manufacturers will find more and more ways - buzzes, shakes, pokes and vibrates - to interrupt your train of thought. New opportunities, then, in 2013 for internet-free rural retreats or sessions to relearn the art of conversation without interruption, hesitation or deviation.

7. Mobile controlled accessories

Internet-enabled glasses Modelling a pair of internet-enabled specs

This year the phone will start to control what we see and what we wear. Google Glass and Vuzix (available this year) are essentially mobile computers that take augmented reality to the next stage.

Now you don't even need to look under the table to get the football results - they can be beamed directly to your eyes. Face recognition linked to Facebook or LinkedIn can provide an instant biography at a party, saving much embarrassment or providing useful lines for a potential business opportunity.

And for the more flamboyant, there are dresses implanted with electronic displays that project your latest social media updates onto the fabric.

Social and mobile will be at the heart of digital innovation this year. And yet, most companies continue to underestimate the speed and impact of these changes. They remain locked in a desktop mentality, leaving their products and services in danger of becoming irrelevant to a new digital savvy generation.

But institutions and governments are also lagging dangerously behind, not least because mobile and social undermine traditional hierarchies and decision-making processes. More flexible thinking, more flexible content that works with these trends needs to be embraced at every level and 2013 is the year when that will seem more obvious than ever.

Nic Newman is a digital strategist and former BBC Future Media executive. He is also a research associate at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University.

You can follow the Magazine on Twitter and on Facebook


More on This Story

In today's Magazine


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    Can I access these new clinics online? Do they have a website? Can I PM my couns...........ellor? Sorry, just walked into someone in the station. It's OK though, I just tutted as though it was their fault and slowly weaved on my merry way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    Socially and in work the putting of digital interaction before personal is becoming more an issue. eg being on the phone while driving or when ordering a meal/coffee. Would you as a customer tolerate a shop assistant doing the same to you?"

    They do already and have done for years - "Mind if I just get that...?" Yes I do mind and I have even reported one to her head office for it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    I don't understand why so many people are fixated by 'social media' - I thought the web was for FOSS and hentai. Tim Berners-Lee must be rolling in his cybersphere.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    You see people in bars & restaurants, just staring at their phones and now and again one will hold the phone up and show their companions something and then, back to staring at their phone. I think phone companies have done a brilliant job in brainwashing people into believing they cannot live without a mobile. They have become fashion items where you must have the latest phone stuck to your ear.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    @76 - Babette. I like your style! ; )

    @84 - Fred Bloggs.

    I can see how a move away from traditional media will happen, but not how it would necessarily lead to people being better informed. I think it will, at lease initially, lead to people being less-well informed - rumour media. Unsubstantiated. Gossip taken as fact. Etc.

    McAlpine anyone?

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    There used to be a time when social media looked like it might be fun way tyo keep in contact with your friends. Then someone realised that they could contact potential customers through it, that they could check to see if the person they were thinking of hiring has drug & alcohol problems, and that sucked the fun out of it again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.


    It just depends on how you use it, and yes whether you are rude with it or not.

    Being upstairs or on the sofa and texting your mum asking when dinner is or saying you're hungry is rude in my opinion, but I've heard a fair few people say their children have done that to them.
    Using technology isn't the issue, it's how you use it

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    I've noticed that while out with mates they often stop to text, update Facebook etc & it can seem odd. But I suppose it's getting more normal so am I clinging to my ways of giving other people my full attention, or is it now the norm to pause conversation to do these things? I don't know. The example it can set to children about paying attention bothers me though, while adults drift off digitally.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    Are Friends Electric?

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    To anyone so besotted with all these gadgets and non-stop drivel on social media, I suggest a little more time is spent getting out of the house and into the real world, where people exchange news and chat while actually looking at each other, instead of peering into some hand-held gismo and firing off stupid things like "Just worked out - fanastic". Who's interested??

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    For those of us still capable of reading books, I recommend "The Shallows" from Nicholas Carr. Scary.

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.


    "I suspect the increased dependency on social networking leads to a less informed electorate. Most people are content to fill their news feeds with celebrity gossip, entertainment news and other trivia."

    Actually I would think as we move away from the 'traditional media' that people should become significantly better informed. Old media is precisely why we have celebrity culture

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    I conduct most of my life online, but HYS is the nearest I get to anything remotely approaching social networking! I write websites, research information and correspond with like-minded folk, not to mention conducting job searches and making applications - real, creative uses of online technology, not mindless wibbling :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    A lot of people here look like they might be addicted to Have Your Say.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    @65.McGaz "The real psychological problems will occur when they realise their entire life is online and has been used against them!"

    The secondary, and more deeply impactful, fallout will probably come when (if?) they realise that very very very few people actually care about what they have put up there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    I love this "new digital savvy generation". To me that's a euphemism for "puppets of the profit-greedy electronics giants who are now so well-trained (or tamed) they simply dance to whoever's pulling the strings today." An almost total dependence on a transistorised "reality" and a willingness to throw endless money at it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    @chaz I agree that he was mocking government regulations but I felt that he still wouldn't mind if the cost went up for everyone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    Not sure I see the problem, as long as you are not rude with it (would you look at a watch during a meeting? No? then why a phone?). As 74. Tom said this is life now and if you don't take part you will lose out. Simple.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    Will digital addiction clinics be big in 2013?
    I hope not; we cannot afford the cost. These folk who go around literally wired head to foot with technological gadgets, have got themselves into a mess, & they don't even know it. They have been foolish, revealing so much of themselves to strangers, & their "good friends". They have played into Govt's hand = BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING - YOU!

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    In response to Tony's comment: "Odd that so many people here are knocking the digital media .Where are they posting from?
    From their laptops, tablets and phones!"

    Agreed, but it's all about balance. Besides, the letter I wrote in long hand won't arrive until Wednesday!


Page 14 of 18



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.