Phones: A Threat to Your Friends

I could think of another 19 reasons as to why I could live without a smartphone, and yet I continue to live on with a smartphone, and when push comes to shove, I’d probably defend the thing with my life.

I think the real addiction of smartphones lies in their portability. Instead of keeping technology in the confines of our homes, we can take it out on to the streets, into the shopping malls, and into our social meetings. Anywhere and everywhere. These places are public spaces. Public spaces are regarded as areas in the public realm that help ‘promote social interaction and a sense of community‘ (APA, 2013). However, now it seems that public spaces are just realms in which we have to go, and are not obliged to act socially. According to the American Planning Association, a ‘Great Public Space’ is one that ‘promotes human contact and social activities’. While the increase in mobile phone use has enabled us to connect with people on the other side of the globe, a study by Przybylski and Weinstein found that even the mere presence of a mobile phone or laptop device can have negative effects on the closeness, connection and conversation quality between people (Przybylski & Weinstein, 2012). Bringing a piece of technology designed for an individual to use (mostly independently) into a public space, like a library or café, is not a bad thing, however it can tarnish face-to-face social interactions.

Anthropologist, Edward T. Hall, developed the concept of ‘proxemics’, exploring the boundaries and influences of personal, social and public spaces. While there are no strict rules regarding our interactions with other people in public, Hall devised a set of radii that seem appropriate for particular social contexts.

Edward T. Hall's personal reaction bubbles

To briefly explain what this diagram means: In the middle of the red circle is you. Each surrounding coloured circle is a person/set of people that you interact with, whether it be intentionally or unintentionally. The diagram suggests that if you interact with someone in a social space, such as at a train station, it is suitable to keep a distance of between 1.2 metres and 3.6 metres between you and the other person. Hall suggests that any closer is invasive and uncomfortable.

Now why am I talking about this? Because, now at the centre of the circle, we find not only you, but you and your phone. Your phone is now a tool to alter these socially accepted distances. With a phone in your hand you are given the permission to stand a little closer to someone in line at the service station, as long as your eyes are down on your screen and not on them. However it also does the opposite. It forces you to be further away, perhaps not physically, from those closest to you. We push our family and friends into the social space bubble, and pull our Twitter and Facebook feeds into our personal and intimate spaces.

Technology is twisting the once well understood social norms of personal and public space. A public space is now simply a place you must walk through, or sit in, with no relational value. They are no longer places that promote human contact, but instead demote it, because public spaces are becoming places where we hide behind our screens. Where we are too distracted by our virtual social-life to give a damn about our real one.



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2 responses to “Phones: A Threat to Your Friends”

  1. expensivewednesdays says :

    Really interesting diagram + explanation – really puts this situation into perspective!
    Also, loving the video – hilarious

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