It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the presence of smart phones encourages anti-social behavior. I have a friend who has an iPhone, and both she and my daughter always play on it while we’re hanging out together. I don’t have an iPhone, so I’m inevitably drawn to know what’s so exciting on the screen, and I, too, have gotten sucked in to the world of Wordshaker and Talking Tom. (For the record, I have never played Angry Birds. My daughter tried to play it the other day for the first time and she couldn’t get the hang of it. Whew! Like we need another distraction.)
And that’s just it – our cell phones not only distract us from interacting with the people we are physically with, research shows that they distract us from our need to engage in pro-social behavior, as well. According to TIME, cell phone use has been linked with “more selfish behavior.”
Researchers from the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business found that after a short period of cell phone use, people were less likely to partake in “prosocial” behavior — actions that are intended to help another person or society — compared with a control group. For example, after using a cell phone, study participants were more likely to turn down volunteer opportunities and were less persistent in completing word problems, even though they knew their answers would provide money for charity.
The craziest part? “The same drop in prosocial tendencies occurred even when participants were simply asked draw a picture of their cell phones and think about using them.”
The researchers involved in this study are too generous when they suggest that the reason people become more selfish after using a cell phone has to do with “feelings of social connectedness.” According to TIME, “All humans have a fundamental need to connect with others — but once that need is met, say by using a cell phone, it naturally reduces our inclination to feel empathy or engage in helping behavior toward others.” I’m not so sure about that. I think it’s less about our need for belonging being met by the cell phone and rather that these smart phones, so individually tailored for our use with our favorite apps, our favorite wallpaper, our favorite ringtone, make us drunk on our own sense of self. We lose empathy not because after a phone call or text we’re all tapped out on connectedness, but because we’re suffering from a dearth of it, filled up instead by the cult of me.
I say this because I bet if researchers had run the same study years ago, before the dawn of cell phones, I doubt they’d have found people to be less charitable after using a landline phone. I think this research fails to consider how people actually use cell phones. Once upon a time, not so long ago, telephones were connected to a wall and could be used to make calls only. If you picked up the phone to talk to a friend, you might have talked to them for hours. And why not? You were confined to your home. You had committed to the act of making a phone call. Now, if we make calls at all on our cell phones, we make those calls on the run, in-between things. We are connecting, yes, but we are serving our own needs simultaneously, picking up the dry cleaning and picking up where we left off with an old friend. It’s even more likely, though, that we aren’t using our call phones to make calls at all, because we can’t be bothered to connect with our friends and loved ones that deeply. Instead we send them a text. “C u soon.” We even use texts to donate to charity. So, it’s not that our cell phones are making us feel less charitable, it’s that they’re tricking us into thinking we’re more charitable and connected than we actually are.
Because our cell phones are mini-computers, we have to be careful not to be too distracted by them around our children, lest we wake up to find our own children are now teenagers who don’t know how to put their phones down. It can be difficult to ignore the sweet, sweet pull of the smart phone – the entire Internet there in your pocket. But I try to pay close attention to my daughter when we’re out running errands or playing on the playground, because I know that in order to teach her to be empathetic, I have to give her the gift of my full, undistracted presence. Besides, why check Facebook one more time? It only makes us feel horribly about ourselves anyway.
Do you have rules of engagement for your smart phone?
Story via Jezebel