When considering how ubiquitous mobile devices have become, you might be tempted to draw the conclusion that use of mobile devices is replacing face-to-face social interaction, particularly because it has been well-documented that extensive use of the Internet on a personal computer often correlates with social isolation.
But it seems such a conclusion is incorrect.
The more you use your phone, the more social interactions you have
It turns out the opposite is true, according to the 2010 study “In-Person Contact Begets Calling and Texting: Interpersonal Motives for Cell-Phone Use, Face-to-Face Interaction, and Loneliness,” conducted by the University of Texas. The study concluded that the more a person uses his mobile device, the more face-to-face social interaction he has and, likewise, people who use their mobile devices less frequently have fewer face-to-face interactions.
It seems that rather than replacing face-to-face interactions, mobile devices are merely complements to such interactions.
There is no one I know who uses his mobile phone more than my younger brother, Todd. When I’m around him, it seems like he sends or receives a text message every 30 seconds. So, I asked him how he uses his phone socially, and he agreed that his mobile phone increases his overall social interaction.
It’s rude for others to use their mobile phones during face-to-face interactions …
While mobile devices may have not altered our face-to-face social interactions, have they altered our expectations in face-to-face situations?
The answer to this question is murkier. It seems that people still consider certain actions rude, as my brother describes below.
Interestingly, my brother describes as “rude” other people’s use of their mobile devices in social situations for what he perceives as “entertainment,” but excuses his use of his phone in the same situations if it’s work-related.
This is due to a phenomenon known as “social attribution theory,” in which people ascribe the actions of another to that person’s character, but consider their own actions to be circumstantial.
… but it’s not rude for you to use your phone
In an essay for the book “Mobile Communications: Re-negotiation Of The Social Sphere,” Kathleen M. Cumiskey, an associate professor for psychology at the College of Staten Island, applied social attribution theory to mobile phone use.
She found that “when asked to explain their own behavior, participants went to great lengths to either legitimize their own mobile phone use or to attribute it to situational factors. This was in contrast to their perception of the factors affecting the mobile phone of other people in public locations.”
In essence, if a person interrupts a face-to-face conversation to answer a phone call from his boss, he will excuse his behavior due to the importance of the call. But the person he was talking with may consider his answering the call as indicative that he is an inconsiderate person.