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What do you do on your phone when using the toilet? Most likely it’s scroll through social media. Photo: Shutterstock

What people do on their phones in the toilet – scroll through social media, read news, play games and do work are survey’s top 4 responses

  • A recent survey of 9,800 adults in 10 countries asked whether they used their smartphone in the bathroom and if so, what for
  • Of those who said they did use it, 53 per cent scroll through social media, 38 per cent catch up on news, 31 per cent play games and 29 per cent do work tasks

It used to be that going to the bathroom was an escape from the world and a moment of quiet time. Sure, some people would leaf through a newspaper or magazine, but generally it was a brief respite from everything else.

Not any more, at least for most people. A survey by cybersecurity company NordVPN asked 9,800 adults in 10 countries whether they use their smartphone in the bathroom – 65 per cent said that they do.

Spanish people were the ones most likely to be online even when answering the call of nature, at almost 80 per cent. They were followed by Poland (73 per cent), the US (71 per cent), Lithuania (67 per cent), Canada (66 per cent), and the Netherlands and France both on 64 per cent.

Bringing up the rear (ahem) were Australia (62 per cent), the UK (59 per cent), and Germany (55 per cent).

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The most popular smartphone activity while on the loo is scrolling through social media (53 per cent). People also catch up on news (38 per cent), play games (31 per cent), do work tasks (29 per cent), call or message friends (29 per cent), and watch videos, movies or TV (26 per cent).

Other activities included shopping online, listening to music and podcasts, and planning the day.

Smartphone use on the toilet was most common among millennials (26- to 41-year-olds), with Gen Z (18- to 25-year-olds) at number two.

The smartphone simply offers more possibilities on demand than a book, and also makes it possible to exchange ideas with others during this little downtime
Hans-Jürgen Rumpf, psychologist and internet addiction researcher

However, it’s not really a new phenomenon, according to Clemens Stachl, a professor of behavioural science at the University of St. Gallen, in Switzerland.

“People have also consumed media on the toilet before smartphones,” he says. However, today there is a new dimension to it.

“I often talk about the smartphone’s lens function in this context. It concentrates and bundles on a single device many activities that used to be done in specific places or in other contexts: dating, banking, shopping, gaming, navigating, planning trips, learning languages and so on.”

Clemens Stachl, a professor of behavioural science at the University of St. Gallen. Photo: University of St. Gallen

Hans-Jürgen Rumpf, a psychologist and internet addiction researcher at the University of Lübeck, in Germany, also sees tradition in today’s behaviour.

“Even in the past, people read on the toilet. For example, there is a study from 20 years ago, according to which at that time at least a quarter of the population read on the toilet, such as books or comics. This behaviour was – and is – more pronounced among men,” Rumpf says.

But since the smartphone offers many more possibilities, scrolling on the john in 2022 is much more widespread than reading on it was in 2002.

“The smartphone simply offers more possibilities on demand than a book, and also makes it possible to exchange ideas with others during this little downtime,” Rumpf says.

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In principle, Rumpf doesn’t see smartphone use in the bathroom as harmful behaviour. In the last 15 years, a culture of constant accessibility has developed that extends into the formerly quiet minutes in the toilet.

However, he points out, the phenomenon of “FOMO” – the fear of missing out – is spreading. “This obsessive worry and inner turmoil can lead to intensive smartphone use and be the precursor to problematic and ultimately addictive use.”

The rate of those at risk from addiction is likely to be higher among bathroom scrollers than among those who don’t take their phones with them into the toilet.

Rumpf advises people to be aware of their smartphone use and to put the devices away more often, especially when eating and going to bed, and perhaps when going to the bathroom too.