Digital Distraction to the Detriment of In-Person Relationships

While it may not be as acutely dangerous as texting while driving, texting while socializing can take its toll on relationships. We’ve all shaken our heads at families who go out to dinner only to huddle over their phones in silence instead of talking to each other, or couples who interrupt romantic dinners to check their smart phones by candlelight. A large number of us have probably also been the culprits, as the lure of mobile technology becomes harder and harder to resist. How is technology affecting our face-to-face relationships?

  • A 2012 study from the University of Essex demonstrated that merely having a cell phone visible in the room—even if no one checked it—made people less likely to develop a sense of intimacy and empathetic understanding during meaningful conversations. Interestingly, the researchers suggest that the experiment participants did not necessarily consciously notice the effect of the phone.
  • Fifty-four percent of “Digital Natives” (people who were born in the age of the internet) agree with the statement, “I prefer texting people rather than talking to them."
  • Even tech-savvy teens don’t like their companions to check Facebook during an in-person conversation. Forty-five percent of teenagers reported feeling annoyed when friends get distracted by technology while they are spending time together. Forty-four percent admit to allowing social media to divert their attention from in-person interactions.
  • We’re used to hearing parents complain about tech-addicted teens, but teens are also frustrated with their tech-dependent parents. According to a Common Sense Media study, 28% of teens say their parents are “addicted” to their mobile devices, and 21% wish their parents would spend less time glued to their phones or other devices.
  • A Cambridge survey asked Americans, “Do you ever feel that you or your family would benefit from having ‘technology-free time’ where all communications devices are switched off?” About 12% said “all the time,” another 12% said “regularly,” and about 36% said “from time to time.” That makes a total of 60% of respondents who believe unplugging is beneficial.

--Liz Soltan