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Have Phones Killed the Conversation?

Since text messaging became a standard feature in all phones, and the iPhone spurred an internet revolution we can hold in the palm of our hand, we have been spending much of our time staring into our phones’ tiny screens. Often this comes at the sacrifice of seeing less of our loved ones’ faces. Despite how much we “talk” on the phone, we now use our devices less for actual talking and more sending text messages and stay connected with work. Just how deeply have phones integrated into our conversation habits? Have phones really killed the conversation?

 

We Don’t Talk Anymore

The amount of time we spend talking face-to-face is on the decline. In 2006, we spent 86% of our total communication time talking face-to-face; by 2010, this proportion decreased to 72%. As workforces become digitized and we increasingly rely on our phones and computers to communicate, this number is bound to continue falling. Even when we do talk to others in person, the mere presence of a mobile phone can damage the conversation. One study found that strangers who held a conversation with a phone between them experienced “lower relationship quality and less closeness” than those without a phone.

We also use phones to avoid talking to people around us. Have you ever pulled out your phone while waiting for a friend at a bar? 13% of phone users have pretended to be on the phone to avoid interacting with people around them. We also use phones to avoid audibly talking to nearby friends; 45% of people have used their phone to call someone in the next room. This could either be a symptom of laziness or just a social reaction to being in a room full of people using their phones, since 40% of people are more likely to talk on their phone or check text messages if a friend does the same.

Not only do we use cell phones to avoid talking face-to-face, but we are also increasingly using our phones to avoid communicating with our voices. This is surprising given that 6 of the world’s 7 billion people own a cell phone!  The average length of a phone call, has decreased drastically in recent years; in 2008 the average phone called lasted 3:20; today it’s dropped to 1:40. The truth is, text messages have replaced many of the phone calls we used to make; while we sent 14 billion text messages in 2000, we sent 188 billion in 2010. 32% of people prefer to communicate by text rather than by phone, even with people they know very well. At this rate, how many will we send in 2020?

There is still hope for real-life conversation, though. Despite the trend toward increased mobile conversation, there are some things we still prefer to do in person: seven of 10 people prefer face-to-face contact when asking out a potential date. At least we humans can do one thing right.

 

Mobile Manners

Though most would agree that witnessing one-sided phone conversations by people on mobile phones in public is more annoying than hearing loud face-to-face conversations between two people, one out of 10 phone users admit that they have received irritated stares from others while using their phones in public. As annoying as these one-sided conversations are, though, people are beginning to accept them as a necessary part of reality. While in 2006 82% of people were annoyed with phone conversations held in public, by 2012 that rate had dropped to 74%.

 

Death by Phone

We have become so addicted to our mobile phones that we are allowing them to interfere in spheres of our lives they have no business being involved in. Texting behind the wheel is now the leading cause of teenage death in the U.S. In fact, we are all 23 times more likely to have an accident if we text while driving. Sometimes it just makes sense to put the phone away.

 

Benefits of Mobile Communication

Communication by mobile phone isn’t all bad news, though. In business, of those who used a mobile device 69% saw their productivity increase, 30% saw higher employee morale, and 16% saw a reduction in costs. Mobile phones have also made it easier and more affordable to talk to loved ones living in different countries. During the winter holidays, 84% of expats rely on Skype and 41% of families send a text message to loved ones abroad. Our love lives, too, benefit in some ways from using mobile devices. 55% of people flirt via text and 38% send suggestive pictures to their partners. And, take this as a plus or minus, for those maintaining affairs mobile phones also come in handy; 24% of people use text messages to coordinate adultery. Talk about covert operations!

 
As our phones begin to offer even more tools to help us accomplish our daily tasks, I hope that we can learn to lose our app addiction and instead use our phones to increase our leisure time. Let’s have our phones do some of our work while we text a friend to meet for lunch or call a loved one to see how they are doing (for longer than a minute and 40 seconds, I hope!). After all, if we don’t use mobile phones to communicate in authentic ways, why should we use them at all?

 
How often do you use your cell phone instead of talking to someone face-to-face? In what ways do you think your phone has changed your communication habits?

 
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