The iPhone Effect: Changing Social Interactions & Consciousness

iphone effect

This state of mind makes it harder for us to connect deeply and personally with our social and physical surroundings.

As smart gadgets have changed and gotten better, their use has grown quickly.

Smart gadgets make it possible to do a lot of different things at the same time. This makes it possible for people to be more productive and connected, but it could also lead to a culture of distraction. Researchers have found that multitasking affects many brain skills and jobs, including the ability to drive, remember, and study. Also, the spread of technology has changed the way many people interact with each other. Smart devices connect us to a bigger network of friends and contacts, but these larger networks may have more tenuous, weak or shallow relationships, than traditional, stronger ties.

Social scientists have been studying the effects of having too much on your mind, being distracted, and having bigger, more spread-out social networks for a long time. Our world seems to have new troubles because of technology.

“The iPhone Effect: The Quality of In-Person Social Interactions in the Presence of Mobile Devices,” a study from 2014 that was released in the journal Environment and Behaviour, tries to bring together both the cognitive and social research on this problem. The writers, Shalini Misra, Jamie Genevie, Miao Yuan, and Lulu Cheng of Virginia Tech and Monsanto, looked at how the presence of mobile devices affects the general quality of social contacts.


To do this, 100 pairs of people who already knew each other were randomly assigned to talk about either unimportant things or important things for 10 minutes at a coffee shop or cafe while they were watched from a safe distance. The writers then watched to see if a mobile device was used, touched, or put on the table during the talk. After 10 minutes, the subjects filled out a short poll to find out how connected and caring they felt during their conversation.

Study Results

  • Only 29 of the 100 pairs talked on their cell phones, while the other 71 did not. Overall, talks that didn’t involve phones were ranked much higher than those that did. Those who talked without a cell phone in the room said they felt more connected.
  • When people talked to each other without using their phones, they felt more sympathy for them. Also, people with close relationships were less empathetic when they were around a mobile gadget than people with more casual relationships.
  • The study didn’t find any big differences between how cell phones affected more serious conversations and less serious ones.


Even when they are not being used but the devices are active in the sense of ringing, beeping, etc – they are a sign of a person’s larger social network and a gateway to a huge amount of information, the experts say. When they are around other people, they always want to know more, see if they can communicate, and think about other people and places. So, just their presence in a digital-physical world can split awareness between the near and current setting and the physically faraway and invisible networks and contexts. The impact is that the wide range of behaviour expectations they create change the social and physical environment of face-to-face talk in a big way. In these open and split situations, we are always in a state of multiple/ split consciousnesses, in which multiple people and places can be the focus of our attention at any given time, no matter where we are or what we are doing.


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