Smartphones, one of the revolutionary technologies of this century have become an inescapable trap. Once we had to queue up outside of a brand’s store to get our hands on the gadget and now we have to watch people talk about how we can help overcome our smartphone addiction.

Since the launch of the first smartphone by Apple in 2007, our society has become saturated. Smartphones instead of actual human beings have become our constant companions by keeping us connected with the digital world, helping us in work, keeping us entertained, demanding attention with the never-ending notifications and becoming our go-to mode to talk to other people in our circle.

This makes us question, are smartphones killing conversation and are leading the new generation on a path of self-exile from the real world?

Unconvinced? Well, next time you are meeting your friends or having a dinner party with a long list of family members, notice the pattern of mobile phone usage especially among the tweens, teens and the young adults and you will see that in most cases many of them would prefer their smartphones over interacting with people, a clear evidence of smartphones killing conversation.

Electric Cocaine

What will happen if you walked up to your child and handed them cocaine or any other drug? Well, you would never need to think of this scenario because any parent, educated or not, knows that drugs are a no man’s land. Given this analogy, it is very surprising that how the same parents are willing to hand over a smartphone to their kids and even to their newborns.

Dr. Peter Whybrow, director of the Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) refers to screens as Electronic Cocaine. The smartphone’s ability to instantly provide whatever we want and its ceaseless notifications make them very hard to resist.

We are also slaves to our primitive biological responses when it comes to resisting the allure of technology especially smartphones.

Using our very own smartphone gives us a hit of a neurochemical dopamine which is related to reward-motivated behavior

When a person gets a notification or a like on their social media post/picture, their dopamine level goes up and when they check their device, the body reinforces the dopamine hit with some more, making it a pleasurable experience that we are more likely to repeat in a compulsive manner.

People around the world collectively check their smartphones upwards of 80 billion times per day

Some reports suggest that an average person touches their phone 2617 times a day. We also spend around 9 hours every day using some form of a smart device whether it is a smartphone, laptop or a tablet, which is more than how much an average person sleeps at night.

In other words, if you are addicted to your smartphone or to crack, the biological response is almost the same which begs the question; why we condemn the latter and are okay with the first?

Why Real Conversations Matter?

To answer how are smartphones killing conversation, we have to first realize why they are important. There is a special quality about face-to-face interactions, whether you are meeting someone for the first time or hanging out with an old friend.

Holding a conversation with someone is much more than using words

You can catch the subtle tone of their voice, see their expression and how it changes during the conversation and look them in the eyes to see if you think you can trust them.

So should we worried about smartphones killing conversation? Absolutely Yes as they are killing social skills and on the downside, we have started to lose touch of impersonal communication simply because we cannot express body language, tone, voice, touch and facial expressions via text message and emojis.

According to MIT sociologist Sherry Turkle, author of Alone Together and Reclaiming Conversation, our growing dependence on mobile phones has led us to lose our ability to have deeper, more spontaneous conversations with other people and has changed the nature of our social interactions in many alarming ways.

In Alone Together, she articulated her fears that even though technology has promised to make us more connected, in reality, it is proving to make us feel more and more isolated.

Humans are too much focused on creating the next big thing in technology that they are looking away from the social effects of mobile phones and how they are eating away our capacity to evolve as a being.

Conversation is the most human thing that we do which helps us to form empathy by establishing eye contact, hearing the tons of another person’s voice, sensing their presence and looking at their body movements. It is also where intimacy is born along with introspection, and creativity.

Simply put, it is where we learn about other people and the world we live in and when we deprive ourselves of these face-to-face moments, we end up where things get lost in translation and with devices like smartphones killing conversation altogether.

I am quite amazed at how little interacting many families are doing in the last decade. We can see parents shoving a smartphone into a child’s hands who is not even big enough to speak for himself/herself or pushing them some food without looking up from their own screens.

We understand that the continuous bombardment of information makes us want to stay hooked with the digital world but parents who use this method are likely to end up with children who start associating their feeling with the use of technology and in turn lose the sense of belonging.

The human need to avoid conflicts is understandable but at the same time it does not excuse them for throwing a smartphone whenever they feel that their child is being demanding or you want to be rid of them for your own moment of calmness because in retrospect you are giving them a piece of technology to talk to, showing them that a gadget instead of people is a safer place for them to get out their feelings. That is exactly what your child does not need as he/she should seek out human conversation, not the digital world.

From time-to-time, every parent turns to smartphone for entertainment for themselves or for their child which is not necessarily wrong. In some cases, it may reduce the conflict brewing at the moment and can help calm down a difficult child while reducing the stress for a parent. At the same time we need to ask the question; are we displacing the important moments of bonding through this technique where the parent can teach them the necessary emotional and social skills.

Damn Our Health!

Mobile phones are not just taking away our social interactions but are creating many real-life health issues. Many of us casually talk or joke about being addicted to smartphones but there are many people around the world who suffer from Nomophobia (or, no-mobile-phone-phobia), which a fear of being without a mobile phone or being unable to use the device for any reason like absence of a cellular signal, low battery power or running out of minutes or credit etc. The term was coined in 2010 in the UK and some doctors actually think of it as an anxiety disorder.

According to the University of Glasgow researchers, the need to be constantly available and respond 24/7 on social media accounts can cause depression, anxiety, and decrease in the sleep quality of teenagers.

We are all pressurized into portraying our perfect self that we start forgetting to live in the present and appreciate our immediate surroundings.

How to Save Ourselves?

Are you now worried about smartphones killing conversation? Then it is time for you to take a step back and reflect upon your dependence on this gadget. With the integration of the digital world in our everyday life whether it is work or our private moments, the constant use of smartphones is understandable. Saying this, it is high time that you create some rules for the use of this device:

  • Create smartphone free zones like the dining room, kitchen, the car etc. where no one is allowed to use their devices and they have to engage in conversation
  • Don’t put a phone on the table when you are having a lunch or a dinner with a friend, colleague or a family member
  • Don’t use your smartphone while preparing or eating meals
  • When you are meeting another person, try to get to know them and be on the listening mode while looking at non-verbal cues
  • While chatting if you feel your phone buzzing, train yourself to ignore the temptation and ignore it until you are done talking to the other person
  • Keep your smartphone away from your growing children and let them create relationships in the real world

It is quite ironic that a device that was initially designed to enable communications could have such a detrimental effect on the art of conversation where we would end up choosing our smartphones over human companionship.

No matter how many social apps you have downloaded on your smartphone or how many times you send a funny video/meme or a text message to a friend or a family member, we cannot replace the intimacy of an actual conversation.

This article first appeared in the July 2018 Edition of More Magazine