Cell phones have revolutionized the ways we stay in touch. However, do our mobile phones affect our relationships, even when we’re not using them? Findings from two new studies suggest they do. Pairs of strangers discussed assigned topics in the presence or absence of a phone. Specifically, these “stranger-pairs” sat in a room with either a nondescript mobile phone or an old-fashioned pocket notebook placed unobtrusively on a desk to the side. The simple presence of a phone (vs. notepad) resulted in lower levels of closeness and relationship quality after their discussion. Further, when specifically asked to talk about a meaningful topic, the presence of a mobile phone also resulted in lower levels of trust and empathy. It’s possible that cell phones act as a reminder of people’s wider social networks, and the anticipation of a possible interruption (your best friend complaining about yet another awful blind date?) draws attention away from face-to-face conversations.
Przybylski, A. K. & Weinstein, N. (in press, 2012). Can you connect with me now? How the presence of mobile communication technology influences face-to-face conversation quality. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. doi: 10.1177/0265407512453827