It used to be said of some people that they "watched a lot of television". In those days there was nothing else to watch, in that kind of way.

But how do I describe what is being done today ?

Are people "watching a lot of phone" ? Are they "doing a lot of phone" ? Are they "interacting a lot, on phone" ?

If I say "they are doing a lot of phoning" that would imply they are actually on the telephone, rather than tweeting/facebooking/instagramming/texting.

How else do I describe what they are doing ?

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    Well, what are they doing on their phones? Are they reading a blog? Then they’re not watching, are they tweeting? Then they’re not watching. Etc. The internet, accessed via phones, is a lot more multifarious and a lot less passive than the boob tube of old. So the analogy is a bit forced and therefor inapt. It used to be that one would be criticized for watching TV instead of, for example, reading a book. Well, someone using their phone may actually be reading a book! Of course they may be watching a video on YouTube (though mobile video watching is rare compared to other activities).
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Mar 11, 2018 at 14:23
  • Having said all that, if you’re hell bent on forcing the analogy and throwing shade on us phone users (I’m making this comment on your SE answer using my phone right now!), you may accurately accuse us of staring at our phones (count noun, not mass noun). Of course you’ll have to overlook the interaction (typing, tapping, pinching, etc, the giving back, the production instead of passive consumption). But it works. What you won’t get is a mass noun form for phone. You could try consuming a lot of Internet, but that loses a bit of the bite, c’est pas?
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Mar 11, 2018 at 14:27
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    Maybe I’m reading into it too much, but “watches a lot of TV” was, during its own era, used as a criticism or slight. That said, the rest of my comments stand: people are not watching their phones, unless they’re watching a video on it (in which case it’s more idiomatic to say they’re watching a video [on their phone] as opposed to watching their phone). They could be reading an article, tweeting, chatting with a friend, sending a text, uploading a photo on FB, whatever. So they’re using their phone.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Mar 11, 2018 at 14:43
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    You probably also will not get a satisfactory phrase casting phone as a mass noun; for that, you’ll probably want to look to internet as a mass noun instead.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Mar 11, 2018 at 14:44
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    Haha! Nice question. I think the issue arises from phone no longer being a meaningful descriptor for what the device is used for.
    – Lawrence
    Commented Mar 11, 2018 at 15:40

1 Answer 1


Today in the 21 st century, when someone is on their mobile/smartphone/iPhone/cell phone, that person could be performing any number of different operations. They might be watching a video, looking at a website, checking their emails or texts, sending a photo, or even posting an answer on Stack Exchange. There are so many different functions it would be limiting to say that people are looking at, playing on, videoing, tweeting, or texting, etc. Thus, the simplest thing is to say

People are always on their phones

Google claims to have 259,000 hits for "always on their phones"

People are always using their phones

Compared to the 3,180 hits, which Google claims, for "always using their phones"

P.S. See @laurel's comment below for why Google's estimated results are never truly reliable, and this article which I unearthed.

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    Note that Google search results do not give an accurate number of hits when it says "about x results". The real number of results for your searches are 373 and 80 hits respectively. (That's why I suggest using a different tool for this.)
    – Laurel
    Commented Mar 11, 2018 at 15:58
  • @Laurel I'm well aware of the pitfalls of Google, but I don't know how to use the British/American corpus tool, trust me I have tried to learn but I am useless at using it. Anyhow, the links are in the answer, and the pages and examples cited are there for anyone to see.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 11, 2018 at 16:03
  • @Laurel where did you get 373 hits? I don't see that figure anywhere. I went to page 17 on Google and I still see about 259,000 hits
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 11, 2018 at 16:05
  • Ugh, that was what it said the last time I checked... Now it's like this. This is why Google is the wrong tool. For the BYU corpora, I'd try a search like always on _app* phone (of the variations I tried this is the only one that returned matches in COCA).
    – Laurel
    Commented Mar 11, 2018 at 16:20
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    You use the dropdown (which admittedly uses only slightly less obscure syntax) to add special operators to the query. The operator _app* is "poss.ALL", i.e. any possessive word (I think).
    – Laurel
    Commented Mar 11, 2018 at 16:31

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