It’s a busy crosswalk. Cars are rushing by and pedestrians are hurrying across the street—except for one. A middle-aged woman stands in the middle of the road, selfie stick out, presumably snapping a pic with some bright orange traffic cones. If the scene hadn’t been so comical, I probably would’ve started crying. Has our society become so self-obsessed and engrossed by technology that people can’t even cross the street without whipping out their iPhones?
We see these little, glowing electronic blocks everywhere—in restaurants, on the subway, in the airport. While some people are constantly checking text messages and work emails, others are posting mundane images of their pets (“look at Sparky’s new leash! #bark”) on social networking sites like Instagram and Facebook
Besides the blatant narcissism and negative self-comparison that goes hand-in-hand with selfies and newsfeeds, research suggests that smartphones may also decrease our trust in one another, lower the quality of our relationships, and degrade the quality of our conversations.
In a study (link is external) published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, researchers found that the mere presence of a mobile phone is enough to diminish relationship quality. Strangers engaged in a brief conversation about interesting personal events that occurred in the prior month with a nondescript mobile phone either present (resting on a book nearby) or absent (replaced by a pocket notebook).
Participants in the presence of a phone reported lower relationship quality with their conversational partner than those in the phone absent condition, as measured using a seven-item version of the connectedness subscale of the Intrinsic Motivation Inventory. They also perceived less empathy from their partner and trusted them less.
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