Keep in touch. Your partner or your mobile?

The Best You’s recent survey shows that some of us are more likely to choose our mobile phones over our loved ones. We ask if gadgets are hampering our relationships

If you had to spend the next 24 hours without a romantic partner or your mobile phone, which would you pick? The Best You’s recent survey has revealed that 26 per cent of Britons – more than a quarter of us – would rather spend 24 hours without their romantic partner than their mobile phone.

The question wouldn’t exist 15 years ago, and wouldn’t be plausible more than a decade ago. In recent times, we appear to have become bonded to our mobile phones. Indeed, as you read this, it is likely that your phone is within reach of your hands. When you walk down the street, you’ll see most people with their heads bowed, faces lit up by the ghostly glow of an LCD screen, plugged into the ubiquitous web of connectivity.

Technology is empowering, but we need to be careful though, as research indicates that our relationships with mobile devices are becoming unhealthy. Our interactions with those admittedly nifty little gizmos have fundamentally changed those with loved ones.

Think back to any of your recent interactions and ask yourself whether you recall the people around you at any point picking up their mobile phone, however briefly, to check messages, reply to a quick email, post social media updates or take a picture. Bet the answer is yes, and that in all probability you were similarly distracted by the bleeps and flashes of the screen.

It’s hard to blame you, as our phones have become indispensable appendages to our daily lives. They are our calendars, personal assistants, archival memories and lifelines to the world around us. There is no doubting the benefits
of the mobile phone.

Ease of communication, the ‘anywhere, anytime’ contact with friends, relations, colleagues and – in theory at least  – the efficiency brought to busy lives. The benefits have been sold to us worldwide by the mobile phone industry, and in the main we have made the judgment that, yes, the mobile phone is an exceptionally useful tool that advances personal communication beyond all our expectations of only
a few years ago.

Undoubtedly future developments just around the corner will equally amaze. We do, however, need to be mindful of the extent to which we are enslaved to our devices.

PAY ATTENTION

Studies by Andrew K. Przybylski and Netta Weinstein of the University of Essex have shown that our phones can actually have damaging effects on our personal relationships.

Indeed, the mere proximity of a mobile phone was shown to have a negative impact on meaningful interaction. During the study, pairs of strangers were seated in private booths and asked to relay personal details of each other’s lives for ten minutes. They were seated very closely together, facing each other, with a desk positioned just out of their direct line of sight. On the desk was either a pocket notebook or a mobile phone.

After ten minutes elapsed, they
answered questions about the level of attention and degree of intimacy that they experienced with their conversation partner. The results showed that those pairs who chatted in the presence of the phone reported lower levels of engagement than those with the book. Having a phone close by, even turned off, distracted the participants enough to detract from their ability to empathise and engage in meaningful conversation with another person.

Conversely, interacting in a neutral environment, without a mobile phone nearby, seemed to help
foster closeness, connectedness, interpersonal trust, and perceptions of empathy.

We have been trained to expect phone alerts and respond to them immediately, leaving us only ever partially engaged with our present company. By virtue of their many
features and powerful capabilities, they present a hugely irresistible
assortment of social, instrumental and entertainment distractions.

If you’re old enough, you’ll be able to remember a time before mobile phones dominated our lives. Young people, however, have been reared on constant connectivity and virtual relationships. This is concerning for a number of reasons. A recent set of studies indicates that young people use their mobile devices differently than older adults.

Young people rely on text
messages to communicate while older people send and receive
substantially fewer texts. In the over 50 group, more than 80 per cent send and receive fewer than ten texts daily, while young adults text much more every day.

The latter use this as their primary method of contacting friends – over 80 per cent report texting as their preferred method. Older groups prefer calling or emailing.

Part of this means that young people expect faster responses
to texts and are more likely to be impatient with delays in someone getting back to them.

This can cause both anxiety and disappointment on a near chronic level. Today’s younger generation are the first to have an ‘any time, any place, anywhere’ mobile communications culture and excessive and more proficient use of it is part of
a defining generational difference.

IN CHARGE

Dr. Lisabeth Saunders Medlock, PhD, CLC is the owner of Life By Design Coaching and believes that mobile phones have an adverse effect on young people’s social development.

“The use of texting, Facebook,
Twitter and other sites as a form of communication is eroding people’s ability to write sentences that
communicate real meaning, and
inhibit the art of dialogue,” she says.

“It also enables people to
communicate without ever seeing each other or hearing a voice, and this has a huge impact in that much communication is done non-verbally or in inflection and tone of voice.

“We will have a generation that has no clue how to read any of these cues.” Saunders advises parents to set time aside, where no mobile phones or other devices are present, just to spend quality time together as a family. “Playing old-school
interactive games is a way to have family fun,” she says. “And of course any outdoor family activity is important. It is hard to use a mobile phone and go on a hike or a bike ride.”

She recommends that parents limit their children’s access to certain websites, and the downloading of specific mobile apps. She believes that children should have prepaid phones to limit talk, texting and data usage. Parents should check their children’s mobile phones at least once per week, to keep a close watch on what they’re up to.

OUT OF CONTROL

The picture isn’t much better
for grown-ups. Roughly one in five mobile owners say their phone has made it at least somewhat harder to forget about work at home or on the weekends; to give people their undivided attention; or focus on a task without being distracted. Repeated ringing, vibrations and reminders put us constantly on edge.

In an University of Gothenburg study, researchers investigated the direct link between the psychosocial aspects of mobile phone use and mental health levels. They found that high mobile phone use coincided with stress and sleep disturbance
for women, while the same level
of use was associated with sleep disturbance and the symptoms of depression for men. The prospect of constant connectivity is the common factor here.

This is one of the prime causes of poor quality social engagement. With the plethora of social media platforms now available to us, it is easier than ever to be in contact with people anywhere in the world. At any given point, you could be having a three-way WhatsApp conversation with your aunt in Australia and a cousin in Greenland, while Facebook-following your friend’s weekend exploits. This promise of connectivity pulls us away from actual, live interactions with our friends and family by the lure of immediately accessible social networks. We short-change our loved ones on our time and attention because of tantalising but ultimately intangible, nebulous online relationships.

Our phones have become the security blankets of the techno-infantalised masses. We feel naked without our gadgets, cut off from the rest of society. They are often the first things we look at in the morning and the last things we see at night. They have become both the means and subjects of constant distraction from the real world. We have all experienced the anxiety caused by leaving your phone at home for a day. *Shudder*. No wonder then that we chose our phone over our

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