Most of us know at least one of the following situations:
- You are meeting with friends and at least one person in the group is using his smartphone, especially social media, instead of communicating with the group.
- You are in a restaurant and see how children or teenagers spend their full attention to their mobile devices.
- You are meeting new people and you feel uncomfortable or the conversation is stuck, so you feel the urge to take out your smartphone and check your Facebook feed.
Are these situations indicators that the increasing use of online communicating (through social media) lets us neglect our everyday face-to-face communication, or can this kind of behaviour regarded as unproblematic?
A research paper, written by Emily Drago and published by Strategic Communications Elon University in 2015, summarizes several sources and compares them with their field research. In one of the studies, it is proven that the average offline conversation without smartphones being involved had a better quality compared to face-to-face communication when at least one person is distracted by his phone (Misra et al., 2014). Furthermore, the researcher asked the participants of his survey to rank the following statement between strongly agreeing and strongly disagreeing: “It bothers me when my friends or family use technology while spending time with me”. 74% indicated that they either agree or strongly agree, what shows that the dislike of friends or family members being distracted in this context (Drago, 2015).
Even though, this paper is based on a relatively small amount of survey participants, it is interesting to see how these young people mostly agree on the conclusion that technology has a negative impact on face-to-face communication. But, the reader should also take into account that the results of such a survey could vary when undertaken in different countries or regions.
Finally, I have a recommendation for any kind of small social gathering with friends or family members: Pass around a small box, let everyone put their muted phone inside and agree that nobody takes it out again before leaving. Of course, this approach does not work when someone is waiting for an important call, but let’s be honest: oftentimes it would be a nice idea to spend our full attention to the people around us.
Misra, S., Cheng, L., Genevie, J., & Yuan, M. (2014). The iphone effect: The quality of in-person social interactions in the presence of mobile device. Environment & Behavior, 1-24.
Drago, E. (2015). The Effect of Technology on Face-to-Face Communication retrieved from https://www.elon.edu/docs/e-web/academics/communications/research/vol6no1/02DragoEJSpring15.pdf