“The Korean case teaches us a lot about what ‘Homo numericus’ might look like”

Chronic. South Korea is the country with the highest smartphone penetration rate in the world for the general population (95% of Koreans over the age of 18 had one in 2019), but also for students elementary schools, colleges and high schools in particular. This is not without consequence on the cognitive abilities of young Koreans.

Sunyoung Han, researcher in educational sciences, measured the impact of early use and diversity of use of smartphones (education or leisure) on independent learning ability and on school results (“Impact of smartphones on students: How age at first use and duration of use affect learning and academic progress », « Technology in Society » n° 70, 2022).

Until this study, empirical research on these issues was inconclusive. They have proven, on the one hand, that the educational use of smartphones increases student motivation and their ability to communicate, which has a positive effect on learning processes and performance. But they also identified, on the other hand, negative effects on the body and the mind due to addictive behaviors.

Critical threshold, elementary school

On the other hand, this article takes into account very precisely the effects on learning and school results, by mobilizing the data of a longitudinal survey carried out in Seoul in 2018 on the behavior of almost three thousand young people born in 2000, of whom almost two-thirds had already used a smartphone at the time of the survey.

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This database includes information on the age of first use, daily duration, main motivation (education, leisure), but also on learning abilities and academic results.

The results are certainly marked by Korean specificities (high level of digitization, market share of smartphones, very important time devoted to education and very competitive nature of the latter), but nevertheless have a general value.

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First of all, the age of first use affects the daily time subsequently spent with one’s telephone and causes forms of addiction. The critical threshold is at the elementary school level. On the other hand, a first use from college does not have significant negative effects.

Leisure or education

Then, the impact differs depending on whether the smartphone is used for leisure or education. In the first case, this use increases the risk of addiction and reduces the ability to learn independently, which is not true in the second case – provided that we can precisely distinguish the two.

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