There are lots of reasons to love your smartphone -- it lets you be productive on the go (or does it?), find your way home when you're lost, distract yourself when you're bored, and even summon everything from a tasty dinner to someone to do your laundry with just a few clicks. OK, it might occasionally tick off your partner that you spend so much time staring at that little screen, but that's a price worth paying for such productivity and convenience, right?
Maybe. But if a mounting pile of research is to be believed, you're probably paying a higher price for that constant connectivity than you imagined.
Peeking at your phone matters more than you think.
Previously, I reported on a Virginia Tech study that showed just how much even little peeks at your smartphone can negatively impact conversations. Then, a few weeks ago, author and academic Sherry Turkle penned a New York Times Sunday Review piece highlighting research along the same lines, including one study that showed simply having your phone out and in view can impede the process of making deep personal connections.
"Studies of conversation both in the laboratory and in natural settings show that when two people are talking, the mere presence of a phone on a table between them or in the periphery of their vision changes both what they talk about and the degree of connection they feel. People keep the conversation on topics where they won't mind being interrupted. They don't feel as invested in each other. Even a silent phone disconnects us," she asserted.
Now there's another study to add to this growing pile of evidence of the toll smartphones can take on relationships. The research out of Baylor University's business school surveyed nearly 500 adults about how a phenomenon the researchers dub "phubbing" -- i.e. snubbing someone for your phone -- impacts relationships.
The verdict isn't good. "What we discovered was that when someone perceived that their partner phubbed them, this created conflict and led to lower levels of reported relationship satisfaction. These lower levels of relationship satisfaction, in turn, led to lower levels of life satisfaction and, ultimately, higher levels of depression," James A. Roberts, a member of the research team, explained.
The researchers even developed a "partner phubbing scale" to determine the extent to which a romantic partner ignores his or her better half in favor of a beloved gadget. After using this tool to rate the level of phubbing going on in the relationships of 145 adults, the scientists came to another disheartening conclusion -- you don't have to spend all that much time staring at your phone to seriously harm your relationship.
"In everyday interactions with significant others, people often assume that momentary distractions by their cell phones are not a big deal," another researcher involved in the study, Meredith David, said. But the findings indicate that even "momentary distractions by one's cellphone during time spent with a significant other likely lowers the significant other's satisfaction with their relationship." In short, you're getting away with less than you think when it comes to sneaking a look at your phone.
Do you really need to take your phone out?
These studies probably won't convince you to go back to paper maps and pay phones, but they should encourage all of us to think more carefully about the limits we put on how we use our smartphones.
Is having your phone out on the table really necessary if you know it's going to make your conversation more superficial and less rewarding? Are those quick glances at your social media feed or email inbox absolutely necessary if they're likely to make your partner markedly less happy with your relationship?
Are you as thoughtful as you should be about how you use your phone in the presence of your loved ones?