Social Distraction: Mobile Phones and Relationships

couple in restaurant, man having mobile phone conversation

At the theatre on Saturday night, the woman sitting next to me whipped out her iPad and began taking photographs in the middle of a performance of Uncle Vanya.  The glow from from her iPad screen and the loud click of the camera shutter distracted both audience and performers alike, but that didn’t stop her from snapping away.

Then, earlier this week, at a performance poetry event, the man sitting next to me spent most of the evening on his mobile phone texting and surfing the internet. Again, it was distracting, irritating and quite frankly, rude.

Mobile Phones and Relationships

Which got me thinking about how mobile technology is affecting our behaviour and our relationships. I may be old-fashioned, but I find it rude when a conversation is disrupted by someone answering their mobile phone.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve met up with a friend for coffee or a walk and they’ve answered a call and spent time talking to someone else.  Or the times I’ve been in a restaurant and seen everyone round a table on their phones, but not talking to each other.

When did we become slaves to our mobile phones?  Just because it rings doesn’t mean you have to answer it.  Isn’t that why we have voicemail?

Mobile Phones and the Negative Effect on Face-to-Face Connections

Recent research by Andrew K. Przybylski and Netta Weinstein at the University of Essex, UK showed that the mere presence of mobile phone has a negative effect on face-to-face conversations, especially when people are discussing personally meaningful topics.

The researchers think that mobile phones remind us about the wider social networks to which we could connect, effectively crowding out face-to-face conversations.

On a personal level, if a friend places her phone on the table next to her latte, I take it as a signal that she’s waiting for a call, and that at some point we are going to be disrupted.  And it also feels as if the mobile phone takes priority and is seen as more interesting or more important. Either way, it signals impending disruption.

Mobile phones may make it easier for us to connect with people on one level but at a deeper level, unless you put your phone away, your connections with people are likely to lack trust, empathy and closeness, the building blocks of relationships.

So, if you want to improve your friendships, try switching your phone to silent mode, and putting it away. The voicemails and texts will still be there later. Then focus on the person you’re with and really connect.  Now we’re talking!

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