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The porcelain throne was once regarded as a place of refuge, a destination where one could go to escape the encroaching hubbub of the outside world and do your business in peace. (I'm getting childhood flashbacks of my mum shouting at me that the crapper was the only place she could get a moment's rest.) In 2016, things are a little different. Our smartphones function like an extra limb, accompanying us on our holidays, in bed at night, and even on the toilet. Rather than providing that much-needed switch off from daily life, the toilet has become the place to get things done.
In a Mirror Online poll conducted this year, only 23% of participants were grossed out by the idea of taking their phone to the toilet, meaning a whopping 77% basically admitted to doing it. A 2013 study by Sony and O2 reported that 75% of their users were prone to a bit of phone-on-the-throne, so it's a trend that seems to be steadily increasing.
So what exactly are people getting up to in there? The Sony and O2 report finds that most people are sending texts and emails and using social media, with about a quarter admitting to making and receiving actual calls. Okay, this makes sense. You're a busy young millennial – you drink coffee in the shower and reply to emails whilst pissing because you simply don't have time not to.
Productivity is one excuse, but there's a whole lot more going on behind closed doors. You'd think that with being surrounded by your own excrement and all, shagging would be the last thing on your mind – but a survey done by MiMedia found that 12% of those asked watched porn on the toilet, and 8% used the time to get some right-swipes in on Tinder. That's a whole new kind of productivity. Hey, you can even use your phone to cheat at a world-class chess game, if that's your kind of thing.
People are so into using their phone on the toilet that there's actually an app – named Pooductivity – designed to capitalise on the habit. If you're a hardcore fan, Pooductivity connects you with other like-minded people. In other words, you can chat to someone else and enjoy the strange comfort that comes from knowing you're both crapping.
So the general consensus is that most of us are into using our phone on the toilet, and mostly, it's pretty good. But are there any downsides? Well, there's one that's pretty obvious: dangle your phone over a puddle of water for an extended amount of time and accidents are bound to happen.
E-commerce manager James, 30, told me: "I was shitting and playing Sonic the Hedgehog on my iPhone. Sonic died, I hit my hand on my thigh in consternation (not constipation), and the phone was dropped, bounced between my legs and landed partly submerged in a stool. I grabbed it, with the smear intact and the Sonic game still on the screen. Sadly, it was too late; water seeped in and the phone died. My insurance required the old handset for a replacement so I stashed it in a ziplock bag. The poor courier just took it out and casually handled it with little regard for its demise. As a side note, the Sonic game saved on The Cloud, and I picked it up the next day on my new phone on the same shitter." Now there's a strong case for backing up your phone.
Alex, a 27-year-old producer, had a strikingly similar horror story. "I was at Glastonbury this year and realised around 7am I'd lost my iPhone. After pacing up and down the mud track in desperation I thought of the last compost toilet I'd gone to and saw my phone perched on a pile of faeces and vomit. No way was I leaving it there. I asked the security guards for help – not a chance, all I got was a bin liner. I held my breath and reached into the murky abyss to retrieve my phone. It was in perfect working order and it was possibly the best moment of Glastonbury getting it back."
Just recently, The Independent reported that a guy in Norway actually got stuck in the toilet trying to retrieve a dropped phone. This was possible because the toilet wasn't connected to the sewer, but a giant excrement-filled septic tank that sits underneath and is emptied once a year. The poor dude, otherwise known as Cato Bernstern Larsten, climbed in feet first, but the fire brigade had to be called when he found he couldn't get out:
"I was obviously slim enough to get into it, but not slim enough to get out. I was down there for one hour, and it was very unpleasant. It was disgusting as hell. The worst thing I have ever experienced. Animals were down there too. I will never enter a toilet again. Now my body hurts, and I will go home and get some rest."
The worst part of all of this? It wasn't even his phone. But all this crap-talking raises another question. Even if you're not retrieving your handset from an actual pile of poo, should we be worried about hygiene? Basically the answer is a resounding yes. BuzzFeed reached out to the University of Arizona's germ experts Charles Gerba and Kelly Reynolds for some firm facts around the subject, and found that 9 out of 10 phones had traces of disease-causing microbes, and 16% contained faecal matter.
So there you have it. It's undoubtedly gross, potentially harmful to our health, and it certainly doesn't come without its risks. But despite all that, going to the toilet without our phone is not an option in 2016 – our relationship with smartphones goes beyond closed privy doors.