No contemporary person can imagine one’s life without smartphones. Only a decade ago, people were living happily without these devices, but their emergence changed the world once and for all. Phones have developed from simple devices used to make and receive calls to small computers that allow taking and sharing pictures, sending text messages, surfing the Internet, buying things, and so on (Jordaan & Surujlal, 2013). However, although these functions have certainly made our life easier in many ways, they also had a profound effect on our social life. Evidence suggests that technology contributes to anti-social behavior of users and makes them less communicative and open (Wang et al., 2011). In this essay, I try to explore the effects of smartphones on social relationships to understand how these devices affect individuals and the society in general.
One cannot deny the fact that smartphones are designed to enhance communication. With the help of these devices, we now can get in touch with someone living far away or communicate with friends and relatives more often. While in the past, people had to write letters to share information and could wait for weeks for them to be received, today, all they need to do is to touch the screen and connect to any person they want. Modern devices make it easier to take pictures and post them online, thus sharing the precious experience with others (Jordaan & Surujlal, 2013). Parents use smartphones to know their children whereabouts while children can call their aging parents to make sure they are fine and do not need any help (Sarwar & Soomro, 2013). Lovers can hear each other’s voice when being far away from each other, thus nurturing their feelings and sharing emotions. As seen, there are countless ways of using phones to enhance social relations and get closer to those we love.
However, some scholars warn that excessive use of smartphones can have a detrimental effect on people’s social skills. Research shows that the number of people addicted to technologies increases steadily. People cannot sleep, eat, study, and work without feeling the ongoing connection, and they take their phones everywhere. As suggested by Sarwar and Soomro (2013), this behavior can have an extremely negative effect on users’ social relationships because they spend less time on real-life communication. Moreover, people cannot achieve the work-family balance because they have to answer calls and e-mails immediately even on weekends and holidays. Some companies require their employees to stay in touch 7/24, which cannot but leave its mark on these peoples’ personal lives.
It appears that when smartphones are used excessively, all their positive effects turn into disadvantages. For example, the study conducted by Baron (2010) showed that the majority of people appreciate the ability to stay in touch with people they love. At the same time, annoying phone calls and messages can be extremely stressful and distract from more important things like spending quality time with family members. Furthermore, texting is another perceived advantage of smartphones. One the one hand, we can write messages anytime we like and receive immediate answers from the recipient (Baron, 2010). Isn’t it exciting to text funny messages to a friend while trying to sit through a boring lecture? On the other hand, people become dependent on texting. They can spend hours every day sending messages and trying to reach the biggest number of friends. This dependence can be exhausting and can deprive a person of an opportunity to engage in a meaningful, real-life conversation.
When people are aware that their words and actions would not have any consequences, they can become aggressive and cruel. Take, for example, cyberbullying. This type of violent behavior is widespread among teenagers who are aware that their phones provide them with anonymity. They can write or say whatever they want because the victim will either never know about them or will not be able to respond (Baron, 2010). Moreover, just imagine how many offensive and cruel things have been said on the phone that would have never been said face-to-face. Naturally, it is much easier to fight when you do not see other person’s face and emotions. Additionally, people may become insensible to their interlocutor’s needs and problems. They may distract, do several things at once, like, for example, drive a car or have lunch, etc., which prevents them from immersing into the conversation. Nobody likes speaking about personal things when knowing that an interlocutor listens with half an ear.
Some people have already realized the adverse effects of smartphones on their social life and try to minimize their use. It is becoming popular among young users to buy simple cell phones without access to the Internet. Others have refused to buy any phone at all to be able to spend more time on real-life communication (Baron, 2010). There are many bars around the world that prohibit the use of smartphones to encourage communication between their clients. Interestingly, the term “digital detox” has emerged recently that refers to spending some time in a place with no Internet and smartphones. People fly thousands of miles to get to some isolated island where they can finally relax and spend quality time with their family (Smith & Puczkó, 2016). These attempts to escape the pervasiveness of phones vividly demonstrate that people need real-life experience and value authentic social relations more than anything else.
As far as I am concerned, these radical measures can be extremely valuable for bringing people closer and showing them the value of real-life communication. I admit that smartphones can be useful to stay in touch with family and friends, and they are irreplaceable at work. However, people should not let these devices take all their free time and emotions. It is important to use them moderately and remember that no matter how innovative and expensive smartphones can be, they would not be able to reproduce the warmth, depth, and complexity of real communication.
Baron, N. S. (2010). The dark side of mobile phones.
Retrieved from http://www.american.edu/cas/lfs/faculty-docs/upload/the-dark-side-of-mobile-phones.pdf
Jordaan, D. B., & Surujlal, J. (2013). Social effects of mobile technology on generation Y students. Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences, 4(11), 282-288.
Sarwar, M. & Soomro, T. R. (2013). Impact of smartphones on society. European Journal of Scientific Research, 98(2), 216-226.
Smith, M. K., & Puczkó, L. (2016). The Routledge handbook of health tourism. London: Taylor & Francis.
Wang, Q., Chen, W. & Liang, Y. (2011). The effects of social media on College students. MBA student Scholarship. Paper 5. Johnson & Wales University. Retrieved from http://scholarsarchive.jwu.edu/mba_student/5/