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Mobile Devices Are Detrimental to Personal Relationships

As mobile phones have increasingly become essential and familiar facets of people's social environment, there has been increasing concern that attending to communication through mobile devices can interfere with interpersonal relationships. According to 2014 data from Pew Research, 90 percent of American adults carry a mobile phone and more than 58 percent of people carry smartphones that offer not only voice and text communication but also Internet, email, and social media access.

The ubiquity of cell phones and the convenience of instant communication have been cited as key benefits in the new era of communication. However, a 2012 Pew Research study indicated that 67 percent of cell-phone users attend to their cell phones regularly, whether or not they have received calls or messages. Statistics such as these raise concerns about whether mobile technology has become an obsessive and distracting influence.

Researchers Andrew K. Przybylski and Netta Weinstein, from the University of Essex, England, published the results of a series of studies on mobile-phone usage in a 2012 edition of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. Przybylski and Weinstein's experiment asked couples to sit in a private booth and have a personal conversation. In some of the experiments, the booth had a cell phone in it, sitting on a table, while in other experiments the cell phone was absent, replaced by a note pad. After the experiment, the couples answered questionnaires about their conversation; the study indicated that the presence of the cell phone, even though it did not belong to either participant, reduced the quality and perceived closeness of the conversation for both participants. The researchers concluded that, when faced with a meaningful conversation, individuals are more likely to be distracted by the potential to engage in casual communication and entertainment offered through a mobile device. The researchers suggested that this research indicates one potential way that cell phones are affecting the formation of interpersonal relationships.

The effects of mobile phones on relationships seem to be more pronounced among young age groups, as mobile technology and social media are seemingly ubiquitous within this segment of the population. For instance, a 2014 study from Pew Research indicated that 42 percent of eighteen- to twenty-nine-year-olds in serious relationships claim that their partner had been distracted by his or her mobile phone when the couple was spending time together. Among the population as a whole, nearly 25 percent of couples reported that their partner was distracted by his or her cell phone. Some psychologists have suggested that the relationship between a person and his or her mobile devices has the potential to become compulsive and potentially psychologically damaging. For instance, a 2012 article in the Huffington Post reported that 73 percent of individuals would panic if they lost their cell phone. Some psychologists have warned that dependence on cell phones has the potential to become a new form of addictive behavior.

While some analysts have argued that cell phones open up new possibilities of communication, fostering instant text messaging and social mediaconnections that expand an individual's personal relationships, some psychologists and sociologists have suggested that this type of communication and connectivity is both less meaningful and less developmentally beneficial than face-to-face and traditional voice communication. Massachusetts Institute of Technology psychologist Sherry Turkle has suggested that young Americans are not practicing the interpersonal skills necessary for effective communication as they increasingly have important conversations entirely through text messaging. Turkle argues that it is meaningful and beneficial to see the look in a person's eyes or, at least, to be able to hear the variations in a person's voice when having important communications. Text messages and other text-based forms of communication bypass these complexities and are therefore detrimental to the ability to develop communication skills.

Mobile phones and devices are a relatively new development in the evolution of human communication. The ultimate effect of this technological revolution is therefore only beginning to become clear as researchers and users discuss and debate the positive and negative aspects of the new era in connectivity. The potential detriments of constant mobile device interaction may change as mobile phones and devices become more completely integrated into society. Recognizing the potential for mobile phones to have a negative effect on relationships may also lead to the development of new conventions and societal trends that may help to reverse these patterns and lead to healthier and more socially beneficial uses of emerging technology.

DMU Timestamp: March 29, 2019 18:11

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