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You are sitting in the café with your friend, whom you have not seen for a while as your busy life schedules take its toll. You have been looking forward to catching up with each other, and you finally managed to arrange a coffee date. As you sit down, taking off your coat, you place your phone on the table and consider your coffee options. You carry on chatting to your friend and think nothing more of it. Of course, why should you think more about it? Recently, this happened to me, except over coffee it was over a pint and it was not left unnoticed. My friend pointed out to me that he had read an article that we are unconsciously leaving our phones visibly in front of us. I looked at my phone and suddenly realised I always leave my phone visibly on the table. I quickly took my phone and put it in my bag, out of sight.
Connect with me, please!
The recent study my pal was referring to was "Can you connect with me now? How the presence of mobile communication technology influences face-to-face conversation quality." A study which examined the effect of mobile phone presence had on relationship building. The research evaluated how a mobile intercepted the quality of a conversation between two individuals, by conducting two experiments; one with causal, and one with deep conversations. The researchers concluded that the mere presence of a mobile phone, in fact, interfere with our socialising and trust building with our partners, regardless of the quality of conversation. We are physically present, but mentally we are not fully there.
“We are physically present, but mentally we are not fully there.”
This made me think, why do we have the constant need to have our mobile phones visible? Are we so desperate to have our phone in a visible range? Studies on the effects mobile devices have on our social lives and mental health has increased as we are striving to understand our attachment to technology. According to research, we have the need to be available not only to the people physically present, but also to our extended network. We have grown attached and our everyday life is based around our smartphones. By merely having our phones on the table, this triggers thoughts about our wider social circle and the urge to not miss out on any messages or notifications.
After I put my phone away to entirely focus and be in the moment, I started to feel a pinch of anxiety as my thoughts quickly shifted over to, "What if I have received a message? I will not be able to answer them straight away. Would it be rude if I checked my phone?" This is what researchers have termed "nomophobia," the feeling of distress when separated from your phone. This could resonate with how I was feeling once my phone was out of bounds and my compulsive thoughts emerged. According to Su and Wang, the presence of technology can "…threaten conversation by creating the present-but-absent, anti-social and app-addiction patron." In other words, we are physically present, but mentally we are not fully there. Furthermore, the rise of various social apps is diminishing our face-to-face communication skills, as the "traditional" way of communicating is threatened. As Sherry Turkle so wisely said in her TED talk, "Conversation takes place in real time and you can't control what you're going to say." Whilst by communicating through technology, we can decide how we present ourselves, in editing, deleting and control what we say.
“We need to learn how to appreciate "downtime" and re-learn how to build empathic conversations and connections with our peers.”
So, what have I learned from this? Well, I am making an effort to not have my phone out in the open whenever I am in a social situation. I am in the process of detaching myself from my device in order to be in the now.