Digital Marketing

Is mobile addiction getting us unsocial?

Written by Marine Lextrait

I decided to write on this topic following the previous course I attended at school about mobile marketing strategy. The lecturer was introducing the course with the fact that we were all getting addicted to our smartphones. It is not the evidence, but the consequences over socialization that drew my attention and I wanted to go deeper in my thoughts about the subject.

Almost everyone, at least in European countries, has feelings of being lost or alone when faced with a dead cellphone battery. This same feeling may also occur while you are visiting a new town and you can not access Google Maps to find your way (aren’t traditional paper maps old-fashioned anyway?)

Everyone who has ever been on a subway will encounter a nearly silent car with all of the passengers glued to their phones. Our logical reasoning may lead us to believe that phones are the reason that we are tuned out and not engaging with the other humans around us. But is that really the case? Is mobile addiction getting us antisocial?


Smartphones: a behavioral addiction


You certainly already met people that can’t stop themselves from checking their phones each time they receive a notification. Some others, more often teenagers, are not able to leave their phones in their bags or pockets and need to have it close to hand, within sight. According to a Deloitte survey over more than 4,000 British adults in 2017, 38% admitted they were using their smartphone too much. Worse, 53% of 16-75-year-olds use their phones while walking.

Addiction can be defined as a behavior that functions to produce pleasure and to relieve feelings of pain and stress:  whether it is using a smartphone, social media or gambling, the behavior acts as a reward.

According to Google Trends, the searches for “phone addiction” have significantly risen in the past five years, showing global awareness about this new form of addiction. An experiment of MIT’s Sloan Management Review demonstrated that most of students who did not have access to their smartphones did not know what to do with the extra time. Some others noticed how often their friends were looking at their phones (around 4 times in 10 minutes) and admitted they were probably in the same situation.


How smartphone impacts our relationships…


Nowadays, it is becoming more common to see people spending more time on their phones than with other human beings. Whether it happens during a family dinner, a friends outing or a date at the theatre… there is always a little period of time during which one person has a look at its phone, even if it is thoughtless.

This kind of behavior is though called phubbing: “the act of snubbing someone in a social setting by looking at your phone instead of paying attention”. People are supposed to be spending times together by going to the restaurant, pub or wherever and barely pay attention to one another because of their smartphone in their hands.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia concluded that people who looked to their smartphones while out for a dinner with friends or family enjoyed themselves less than those who didn’t.

So, how to take back control? Several apps were created to alert you on your mobile consumption. Mute, for instance, enables you to track how often you unlock your mobile and the time spent on it. While these apps are great to track our use they may be focusing too much on the symptom rather than the real problem.

This said, the smartphone is not the first strategy that humans developed to avoid having social interactions. Solitary persons or people who are just looking for a distraction have used books, music players, and even crosswords puzzles to ignore people. My opinion is that we can’t just say that an antisocial person who wants a quiet time will broach the subject of his last holidays with perfect strangers once his source of escape – the smartphone – has disappeared. Some people do like their comfort zone. The question is rather, is the smartphone getting these comfort zones too comfortable?


… But also expands our social world


People are always on their phone: while waiting in a line at a supermarket checkout, commuting to work, eating breakfast – this is true. But can we deny that those persons are socializing, in a different way the “face-to-face” we were used to?

I think that mobile addiction is not getting us less social, this is rather what it means to be social that is changing. Of course, talking to a friend in the same room around a coffee, and texting them in front of Netflix should never be compared. But I support the idea that texting, exchanging comment on social media, blogs, videos, playing games or sharing mobile content is a true way of socializing.

Thanks to social media, you can virtually experience what your family and friends are living with shared pictures, status and localization. Mobile is building engagement, reactions, emotions.


To conclude, even though appearances may denounce the mobile is locking us in a lonely world, I prefer to see this as an evolution in our social behaviours. Granted, too many people are ruining their immediate experience by focusing more on bragging to others. However, the global impacts of mobile addiction over socialization is not as terrifying as we hear it.

Like social media speaker Jay Baer said: “Maybe we should be focused less on making a lot of connections, and focused more on making a few real friends.”

  • Further readings

– Marcello Russo, Massimo Bergami, and Gabriele Morandin. Surviving a Day Without Smartphones, MIT Sloan Management Review, 2017

– Ryan Dwyer, Kostadin Kushlev, Elizabeth Dunn. Smartphone use undermines enjoyment of face-to-face social interactions, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 2017

– Alexander J.A.M. van Deursen, Colin L. Bolle, Sabrina M. Hegner, Piet A.M. Kommers. Modeling habitual and addictive smartphone behavior. The role of smartphone usage types, emotional intelligence, social stress, self-regulation, age, and gender

About the author


Marine Lextrait