It's a common sight in restaurants in China, like in many parts of the world now: A couple sitting down to a meal together, engrossed in their smartphones, barely saying a word to each other.
A survey has just come out in China though, clearly saying that the explosion in smartphone use is ruining marriages in the country and driving families apart. The survey by the All China Women’s Federation (ACWF) found that 60 percent of married respondents complained about intrusion from smartphone use in their relationship.
“Mobile electronic devices have become the ‘electronic enemy of love,’” the survey said. Overuse of the devices has become a "a major enemy to spousal relations, parental relations and personal health."
Of 13,000 people interviewed by the Communist Party’s women’s organization, 43 percent said they played with electronics during family get-togethers or when conversing with their spouse.
More than a third of respondents said they used electronic devices to keep their children quiet, nearly two thirds reported taking their smartphones to bed, and half continue to use those devices after turning off the lights.
Those who did so find it five times more difficult to go to sleep than those who did not bring electronic devices to bed, the survey showed.
None of this is unique to China, of course. In the United States, a Pew Research Center study found that 25 percent of cell phone owners in a marriage or partnership have felt their partner was distracted by their cell phone when they were together. Eight percent have had an argument with their partner about the amount of time one of them was spending online.
But the pace of change in China, and the sheer scale of the problem here — there are more than 500 million smartphone users in the country — is causing official concern.
The study was launched as part of a Party-led effort to rebuild family ties, stretched by decades of societal turmoil and social change; radical communism followed by rampant capitalism and explosive economic growth have put enormous pressure on China's Confucian traditions of family loyalty and filial piety.
Before February’s Spring Festival holiday, an important time for families to reunite, President Xi Jinping said China’s traditions of family harmony should not be forgotten.
Taking up the theme, the ACWF also recommended that people switch off their smartphones for an hour every day and invest more time in face-to-face interactions with family members. It has also tied its annual campaign to find the “most beautiful” family in China to the themes of Xi’s speech.
In January, a woman in the city of Wuhan smashed her husband’s $500 smartphone because he had been so engrossed in social media after coming home from work that he had ignored their three-year-old daughter, local media reported. Burying his head in his smartphone, he barely exchanged ten words with his daughter on some days, she complained.
In Beijing, Zhang Meng, a 33-year-old online games analyst, told the China Daily newspaper that his girlfriend gets angry with him if he doesn’t stop playing games on his iPhone. “But it is true, I can’t put my phone away,” he was reported as saying.
A 2013 study by consulting company Accenture found that the most popular use for smartphones in China was listening to music followed by playing games. Further down the list came browsing Web sites, using social media, watching movies and television serials, reading e-books and emailing. The most popular use for a Tablet was watching movies and television shows.
The average age of respondents in the ACWF survey was 28: half were married and most had college degrees.