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Smartphones are not cell phones: They can help face-to-face conversations

A couple enjoying each other's company.
A couple enjoying each other's company.
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Smartphones enable users to have multi-front interactions in which they have to maintain a good rapport with their immediate partner as well as partners they communicate with digitally. Individual’s now carry the ball and chain of their life, for everyone and everything in an individual’s life is somehow connected to their smartphone. Thus, they drag the weight of those relationships, good or bad, around with them everywhere they go. Due to conflicting demands of attention from an individual’s immediate conversation partner and communicative partners on the smartphone, smartphone side conversations are a likely occurrence during face-to-face conversations. However, smartphones are much more than a distraction.

Smartphones seem to get an undeserved bad wrap. Yes, smartphones can disrupt the mutual attention expected in interactions, but they can also add information to the conversation and entertainment for enjoyment.

Smartphones can be used to play video games, take group selfies, and record group videos: all activities that can be fun and create long lasting memories. Fun activities are well known to create opportunities for bonding. Why is it then that smartphones have become the villain of face-to-face interaction?

Past research found that cell phones create attention problems when driving and learning in the classroom. In addition, rudeness has been attributed to the lack of attention created by cell phone conversations intruding face-to-face conversations.

While previous research has some validity and provides insight into our relationship with mobile phones, many variables were not observed and the right questions were not asked of participants. This is partially due to the times. Cell phones are quite simple compared to smartphones and cannot offer the same social benefits.

Smartphones have many capabilities beyond phone calls and text messaging such as game apps (e.g., scrabble), video/picture apps (e.g., Snapchat), and music apps (e.g., Pandora). All of these apps and many more can facilitate face-to-face interaction. That is, they help people talk to each other and have fun.

Smartphones are the essential all-in-one gadget, they can do almost anything, so it is about time we stop looking at them as if they are the same gadget as their predecessor, the cell phone.

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