Let’s talk about smartphones. The portable devices that have revolutionised the way we socialise and communicate over the last decade. But just how much does smartphone usage impact our relationships, social interactions and identities, and what effect is this having on our mental wellbeing?
Relationships and Rejection
Although smartphones have been revolutionary in facilitating online social interactions, they have had detrimental effects offline. Face-to-face interactions have been broken up and we are sharing less real-life experiences, now more than ever.
The ‘filter bubble’ is the individual conscious space we each occupy, shaped by our interactions with the environment around us. The ‘filter bubble overlap’ is a term used to describe the shared space between two individuals formed by their shared experiences. It is these overlaps that form the basis of our relationships.
The impact smartphones have on this overlap is clear. Our phones essentially pull us out of our environment, resulting in less shared experiences during social interactions and therefore a smaller overlap.
The dynamics of our social interactions are also changing. During online socialising, we are completely blind to the reaction and real-life emotions of the other person. In face-to-face interactions we use facial expressions and other nonverbal cues as feedback to help us understand more about the
other individuals’ inner monologue
Without these physical cues, we must infer cues from whatever digital response we receive. This may lead to misjudgment of others’ feelings and less shared experience as we have a smaller understanding of the others’ own experience.
Smartphone usage can also lead to long-lasting problems with offline relationships. A recent study found that smartphone usage during an interaction was often interpreted as a form of rejection. Rejection can cause feelings of hurt, anger and resentment — lowering self-esteem and mood. These feelings were related to lower relationship satisfaction and increased conflict.
Whilst smartphones can enhance communication, it is evident that they are interfering with our offline social interactions and decreasing the quality of our relationships. Rejection within social interactions leads to lower self-esteem and signs of depression. Excessive smartphone usage during social interactions, therefore, can be destructive to our mental wellbeing by decreasing the quality of relationships.
The Smartphone Self
Not only are smartphones affecting our relationships, the constant usage of these devices is causing identity problems. Today’s smartphones have loads of applications available to users with ‘app’ usage making up 87% of mobile time.
Research conducted on social media usage found that 61% of time spent on social media is via smartphone applications. This shows that smartphones are facilitating the use of social media applications, which can be damaging to our social identities.
Excessive social media usage is causing people to derive their self-worth from their social media following and likes. In today’s world, people correlate a low social media following and less likes with that person being somewhat boring and unpopular.
This way of thinking puts pressure on people to maintain an online social media presence by remaining active on their phone and spending excessive time on social media, a vicious cycle. The unfortunate thing about the current climate is that those who do not use their phone as much are being looked down upon.
Belongingness is a strong and inevitable aspect of human nature. According to social identity theory, we naturally seek belonging within groups. People are increasingly equating a low social media following with a lack of belonging, causing them to feel disconnected.
A problem arises when people are consumed by their social media activity but do not receive the recognition or appreciation that they expect. Another problem presents itself when those people cannot access their social media platforms.
For example, a video of a social media influencer recently went viral after her Instagram account was suspended. Jessy Taylor, who boasted over 100,000 followers, claimed that she is “nothing’ without her following and that it felt like “murder” when her account was disabled.
A Medium post explored how smartphones are exploiting an evolutionary need for approval. The author suggests that smartphones contain various variable reward schedules, such as messages and social media likes that constantly pull us in. We are progressively seeking rewards from our smartphones, in the form of social media attention.
A recent study supported the idea that excessive social media use can lead to emotional and mental health issues. Self-discrepancy theory could explain this effect. Our online presence is supposed to be a representation of our actual self. However, given the fact that we predominantly display only our positive attributes online, our profiles are actually a better representation of our ideal self. Therefore, those who tend to promote themselves more actively through their social media channels may simply be displaying their high levels of self-discrepancy.
Being too Smart
So there you have it. Frequent smartphone use can damage our relationships and cause us to feel as though we don’t belong — triggering feelings of low self-esteem and depression. They also facilitate excessive social media use, which can often lead to discrepancies between our ideal and actual self. These feelings also result in a lower self-esteem, mood and opinion of oneself - also increasing our likelihood of feeling depressed.
This blog post is not an attack on smartphones, as I am one of the many who are guilty of the excessive use of my phone. Consider this a warning of the dangers of excessive smartphone usage. In future, when you are conversing with someone in person, PUT THE PHONE DOWN! Whatever is on your screen can wait. We must treasure our face-to-face interactions and be proud of who we actually are rather than seeking approval through the over-use of our phones.
My Personal Reflection
As I mentioned before, I do not want this post to be considered an attack on smartphones. Digital society has simply informed me about the prevalence of technology within our everyday lives. Not only regarding smartphones, but particularly learning about the Internet of Things and Smart Cities, I now have a better understanding of the direction in which the world is headed. It is quite clear to see, we are destined towards a future whereby technology is used in almost every aspect of life, from self-service checkouts to driverless cars. Whilst these technological innovations are solving everyday problems for us and making life more convenient, I want to know how the use of technology is affecting the way we function as individuals in society.
As a Psychology student, becoming more educated about how the world is using technology has led me to ask questions about the effect this is having on our mental health. With the entire world being controlled by technological devices, this is bound to have an effect on the dynamics of society. Given the fact that smart technology is a relatively new phenomenon, we do not yet know much about how it is impacting our lives. For example, the Digital Engagement topic taught me about how companies are increasingly using our online activity to market and advertise new products to us. This is undoubtedly a implication of technological use, as we are being brain-washed into spending money. Whilst this is a danger of smartphones, I wanted to breach further into the psychological effects of technology on individuals.
Smartphones, for me, encapsulate the “Digital Society” we live in. We are linked with one another in society through a small handheld device that can be taken with us wherever we go in our pockets. Though the problem is, that most of the time these phones are not kept in our pockets and we are spending more time staring into our phones. Therefore, if smartphones symbolise the digital society, then the dangers of smartphones might tell us more about the implications of living in a digital society.
Reading through various medium posts, I have been exposed to different opinions and viewpoints. Articles and blogs have helped boost my knowledge about technology, which I have been able to apply to various psychological theories and ideas. Digital Society has enabled me to modernise my understanding of environmental factors on psychological wellbeing. After all, if the environment around us is changing — the way in which we are influenced by our environment will change too.
The main challenge for me was adapting my academic writing style into a blog post format. As someone who is used to writing in a typical ‘university assignment style’, this has opened my eyes to a new way of writing. Although difficult to adapt to at the start, I now enjoy writing blogs and have found that I feel much more able to express my personal opinions when writing them. In fact, I look forward to writing more blog posts in the future. So keep your eyes peeled and watch this space!