I’m not a big fan of putting my phone down. Imagine, then, the shock and horror I felt when the suggested activity of the week was to design an informal study of my friends to determine how long it would take them to look at or be ‘distracted’ by their phones.
Never the less, I undertook this gargantuan task in the simplest, most agreeable way possible. With drinks.
Conducting this research, very academically, coincided with a social even I had planned. Nothing too fancy, just a few drinks with some old friends. During that time, I kept a tally based on my observations of how often my friends would briefly look at their phones, say to check the time or for notifications, and a separate tally for what I considered a more in depth interaction. It’s worth noting that I was keeping these tallies, of course, on my phone.
Things kicked off around 2030 (24 hour time makes any study seem more legitimate), and by 2130 all 16 of my guests had had both brief glances and full on interactions with their phones at least once. By 2230, I had a recorded 31 brief interactions and 48 extended interactions. Nice and scientific, right?
Well, I ended the study around 1030. Though I didn’t keep a detailed record of the types of interactions beyond my two general categories, anecdotally people having extended interactions with with their phones seemed to be doing one of two things almost exclusively. Primarily, they were squabbling over which song we should listen to next, showing a pre-loaded song on their phone like it was official identification. Secondly, my attendees were either showing other people a photo or taking a photo with each other. Happy snaps from a trip away, new apartments, pics of pets and somewhat tipsy selfies abounded. Not to say that it didn’t happen, but I certainly didn’t witness anyone using their phone for communication or direct, solo entertainment.
Now, onto the spatial relations. Just as the growth of media has redefined our interactions with general space, I believe that media has redefined our interactions with social space specifically. Not necessarily in simply a ‘dang kids on their dang phones’ sort of way, but actually in a positive way. Just as I believe that media allows for a greater quality of life in general (I use that to justify how little I go outside), I believe that the media-social interactions I observed lead to a better quality of social-life. While what I observed was hardly new (people have squabbled over vinyl records and having slide nights for generations), I believe that the connectivity, speed and depth of these interactions has grown significantly since the popularisation of the smart phone, which I consider to be the most socially influential form of modern tech.
Roughly 38% of our daily media interactions take place via a smartphone (Google, 2012), though I’m sure that number would be significantly higher were it updated. Moreover, the mobility, ubiquity and casual nature of a smart phone makes it immediately accessible in most social scenarios. Therefore, at least in my humble opinion, it’s the most important form of screen in regard to social effect. In my casual study and my larger, anecdotal experience, I have always found smart phones to be a multiplier of social interaction. Just like at my party, the smart phone became a way not only to channel media direct from a users phone to a users face, but to a larger space. That rhymed.
At the party people were able to propagate the shared space with media that would enhance the social experience of everyone there. Rarely, almost never, would someone sit alone in a corner silently, like some would believe. Instead people used larger broadcasts, media exchanges and the physical passing of a phone to create a far greater social experience than would be possible without it.
Then again, as the title suggests, I might have been drinking and there’s totally more legitimate studies out there that suggest social interactions are negatively effected only by the presence of a smart phone. Przybylski & Weinstein (2012, p. 244) as a part of an actual study found that “the mere presence of mobile phones inhibited the development of interpersonal closeness and trust”.
But what would those nerds know.
Google 2012, The New Multi-Screen World – Understanding Consumer Behaviour, Google, viewed 25/9/2016 https://ssl.gstatic.com/think/docs/the-new-multi-screen-world-study_research-studies.pdf
Przybylski, AK & Weinstein, N 2012, ‘Can you connect with me now? How the presence of mobile communication technology influences face-to-face conversation quality’, Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, vol. 30, no. 3, pp. 237 – 246 http://spr.sagepub.com/content/30/3/237.full.pdf+html