Who among us can’t say we haven’t looked around a crowded bar and tried to work out which couples should (or shouldn’t!) be there with each other? Go on admit it, we all do it! Well, next time you are trying to figure out if two people are married or not, just check if there is a cellphone on the table…
Perhaps I’m just getting old, but I find myself increasingly less tolerant when I am trying to have a conversation with someone and they suddenly pick up their cellphone, reply to a text and then turn back to me to resume the conversation with a quick “Sorry, you were saying…?” How rude! A colleague pointed out the other day, however, that this is simply the normal way of interacting in modern life, We “multi-task” in everything, including conversations.
A paper in Environment and Behavior set me thinking a little more about this. Apparently, there is a lot of research in the psychology literature on the impact cellphones are having on aspects of everyday life, including talking to each other. The mere presence of a smartphone on the table in a bar or restaurant, for instance, leads to shorter conversations, more trivial topics being discussed, less attention being paid to the other person, longer periods of silence, and so on. Emotional side-effects are most pronounced, with a quite noticeable drop in empathy occurring compared to situations where no phone is in sight.
Intriguingly, all of these effects are greater the closer two people are, with the biggest differences being seen among couples. The closer a couple are, the less attention and affection they will show each other if one of them has an iPhone on the table, even if they aren’t actually using it!
And the moral of the story? Well, next time you look round that bar, the couples constantly breaking off to text someone, or who are sat in silence with a game of Candycrush, they are the ones who are married! The couples who really shouldn’t be there together will be closer to each other, actually talking to each other more, and they wont have a cellphone anywhere in sight!