Mobile phones and physical human interaction – Sophie Chan

‘This link between device and person has obviously altered our conversations’

(Professor Richard Ling, – )

For decades we have used mobile phones to aid with verbal and visual communication. Unfortunately, over this period time we have not realised how constant engagement with these devices has modified human interaction. Ever since the first device, the Motorola DynaTAC 8000x in 1973 (Smith, – ); advancement with technology has allowed new platforms that extend mobile phones from pure communication. Actions such as recording a video, capturing a picture and interacting with the countless number of apps, are now all mindless actions.

I personally agree that my mobile phone is one of my most important possessions as it provides connection and entertainment. But what to extent should we let it dictate our everyday lives? Etiquette expert Diana Mather states ‘they should always be off and out of sight during meals, meetings, parties’ (2014), which depicts the consistent frequency that people allow their devices to disrupt face-to-face human interaction. The Cologne Institute for Economic Research Team had complied a variety of areas that mobile phones have impacted our social behaviour (Bingham, 2013). Situations such as important conversations, meetings or intimacy with a significant other ; have all been re-prioritised. This mindset or habit – if you like, has granted the mobile phone access to the private timeframes of our lives, barricading us from realising that we take physical human interaction for granted.

Furthermore, electronic communication has changed the traditional notion of communication. ‘The mobile phone serves another purpose, namely channel for phatic interaction’ (Ling, 2007) An example of this is a scenario that was mentioned by Richard Ling in ‘Mobile communication and mediated ritual’ where mobile phones can provide imperative connection between teenage couples who live separately. In situations like this, endearing messages sent to one another on a day to day basis often strip value and emotion from words such as ‘I love you’, as just the acknowledgement of the communication determines the success or failure of the relationship. (Ling, 2007)

An experiment conducted by University of Essex researchers, Andrew K. Przybylski and Netta Weinstein had exposed the negative impact of a mere mobile phone’s presence. They placed pairs of strangers in a private booths where a book was placed out of their direct line of sight. In addition, a notebook was present in one pairs’ peripheral vision, while the other pair would see a mobile phone. These pairs where then asked to exchange a personal story of an event occurred within the last month for 10 minutes. After each experiment, the difference between having a mobile present at the scene and not was obvious. From the interviews Prysbylski and Weinstein conducted, they discovered that while the mobile phone was present during the interaction, communication was poor and both strangers distant towards one another. In conclusion, without the presence of a mobile phone would enhance human social interaction and allow ‘more feelings of closeness, trust, and empathy – particularly when trying to have a meaningful conversation’ (Bingham, 2013).

Whilst we have all to thank for mobile phones providing us with constant connection and becoming an ‘extension of the body’ (Bingham, 2013), they have unconsciously posed as negative influences to our social behaviours. Mobile phones have become so immersed in our lives that we alter ourselves to fit this ever-evolving technology. I am only afraid that our dependence on these devices will only devaluate our social abilities.


  1. Ling R, 2007, ‘Mobile communication and mediated ritual’. Available online at: [Accessed 18/8/14]
  2. Smith S, 2014, ‘Are mobile phones killing the art of conversation?’. Available online at: [Accessed 18/8/14]
  3. Bingham J, 2013, ‘Mobile phones destroying people’s private lives’. Available online at:  [Accessed 18/8/14]
  4. Duerson H M, 2012, ‘Your cell phone is ruining your relationship’.  Available online at: [Accessed 18/8/14]
  5. Smith G, 2013, ‘ Forty Year Mobile Phone Anniversary: Motorola DynaTAC’. Available online at: [Accessed 18/8/14]




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