Smartphones play a large role in the lives of young adults, it is how we stay informed and connected not only to our friends and family members but also to the world. The question is–how connected do smartphones really make us? Are we truly becoming more connected or is there perceived connectedness that, in reality, is the deterioration of true relationships and bonds? From my own experience, I would say that the increased use of smartphones and social media is leading to a decrease in relationships between people.
Before going into my negative experiences I will lay out a few positives of smartphones because let’s face it, I love my smartphone and rely on it just as much as the next person.
The most discussed pro to having a smartphone is probably the safety factor. Having a smartphone on you at all times allows you to make and receive calls in times of trouble and the GPS function can help you find a safe route home, share your location with others if there is an emergency, and allows friends and parents to track where you are during a long walk home. For me, GPS was essential to feeling safe during college. Whether friends were walking a block and a half, taking public transportation, or taking a taxi/rideshare, we could ensure they made it home safe.
Another positive to having a smartphone is that they allow us to stay connected to the world. By allowing us access to the latest information, smartphones allow people to stay current and relevant. This became especially handy for me in college while having current event debates in class. If I did not have the chance to watch the morning news and missed a big story that was relevant to the class, instead of removing myself from the conversation I could quickly read a news article on my phone and be able to connect and share a more educated opinion.
Onto the negatives.
The first negative experience with smartphones I will discuss is that of the false connectedness of a close friendship.
I had an experience recently where I felt as if one of my best friends was slowly becoming a very distant friend. While growing up we spent every day during and after school together, today, our relationship consists of sharing the occasional meme, funny video, or breaking news on Facebook and going out for drinks every other month. While we communicate over Facebook almost every day, I could not help but feel as though my best friend was no longer my best friend. We met up for drinks recently and I brought up my concerns over our relationship and what she had to say surprised me. She said that she enjoyed our relationship and held it dear to her because there was no pressure to respond and no pressure to spend quality time together at least once a week. This came as a shock to me because while I have felt hurt by what I perceived as the deterioration of our friendship, she perceived as a ‘good’ friendship. As more of my friends transition from young adults to that of actual adults with full-time jobs, apartments, serious relationships, and take on the responsibility of owning pets or having children, I cannot help but think more of my friends will want this dissociated type of relationship. A relationship in which online interaction and communication is key and central, where sending a Snapchat is equivalent to getting coffee, or receiving a news article is the same as having an open dialogue about a current issue.
Let’s place my experience into a larger context of perceived communication. While many young adults say that smartphones are the best way to communicate and stay in touch with peers, the reality, in my opinion, is that it is one of the worst ways to communicate. Smartphones allow us to communicate through text message, social media, phone calls, and email at all times of the day giving us the illusion that we are effectively communicating with others. But how many of us have experienced a rise in arguments due to misunderstood text messages or emails? Or had a conversation with someone over text that could have taken half the time as a phone call? Too often does information get lost in text translation. Communicating over a smartphone, unless perhaps in the form of video chatting, lacks tone, facial expressions, and body language that is so vital to human interaction.
The second negative experience has to do with the disconnect between people on their smartphones and the real-life situations that are unfolding on the other side of their camera lens.
The city of Chicago has one of the largest Saint Patrick’s day celebrations in the world and it should come as no surprise that there are many rowdy adults and young adults alike walking the streets. I have had the opportunity to celebrate this holiday in Chicago for many years, and while it is usually nothing but fun and laughter, the occasional fight will break out. Over the years, I have noticed that the number of people who step in to break up the fight has decreased, while the number of people who gather around the fight to record it on their phones has increased. This same phenomenon can be seen in a variety of situations beyond just recording fights, such as, taking photographs of drunk college students who are passed out and getting sick instead of calling for help, and taking pictures or videos of women being harassed in public instead of calling out the perpetrator. Increased use of smartphones, in my opinion, has led to situations in which some people are more concerned about capturing something on their devices than they are about engaging in physical interactions. The appeal of “going viral” with a video seems to be taking the place of doing the right thing.
While the last negative experience was a more extreme case, the same phenomena is experienced when you step into a classroom full of peers on your first day of class and not even half of the students lift their heads up from their phones to see who walked into the room.
This before class time is vital to getting to know peers who can help you in the future of the class, yet many of the students are too busy listening to their music or laughing quietly to something a friend just sent them. All too often I hear professors walk into a room and say something such as “is everyone alive today?”, or “wow you guys must have been up really late last night,” when in fact most students are quiet because they are having their own side conversations through text rather than with the stranger who has been sitting next to them for the last 6 weeks.
My Aunt has shared stories of herself as a child going around town with my Grandpa just to stop by friends houses and say hello without calling or sending a message beforehand. People were happy to have visitors stop by and welcomed the interruption to their day. While my Aunt and I are not that far off in age, our experience is completely different. To knock on a friends door today is almost unheard of when you could text them “here” or call them to come outside. Face-to-face interaction used to be the primary source of communication. With a decrease in this sort of interaction are we losing empathy for one another? There is no doubt that smartphones are important in personal, professional, and academic life, but are we seeing a shift between the importance of real life and the importance of cyber life?