The iPhone Effect 10 Years Later; VA Tech Expert Says It Has Transformed “Closeness”

The ever ubiquitous iPhone.

Apple released its first iPhone 10 years ago this week launching a mobile revolution of how we communicate. A decade later, Virginia Tech expert Shalini Misra says smartphones have transformed what it means to feel close.

“Smartphones enable us to feel emotionally intimate with people who are spatially distant. And we may not necessarily wish to be physically close — we prefer to text rather than talk with friends; we socialize more online than in person,” Misra says. “The need to feel close and connected to those who are spatially near may be reduced by our increasing dependence on smartphones. Sharing the same space, in the flesh, no longer gives us the privilege of feeling close.”

Her research finds that the mere presence of a mobile device during a face-to-face conversation negatively affects the quality of social interaction and reduces the empathy shared by conversation partners.

“The iPhone Effect: The Quality of In-Person Social Interactions in the Presence of Mobile Devices,” published in the journal, Environment & Behavior, examines the relationship between the presence of mobile devices and the quality of real-life in-person social interactions in third places through a naturalistic field experiment.

“Smartphones have promoted a state of split consciousness. Just by its presence, we are drawn to focusing on whatever is happening in the moment. We are constantly oriented to the present. This distracted cognitive state diminishes our ability to experience our social and physical surroundings in a deep and personal way,” says Misra.

Shalini Misra is an assistant professor in the Urban Affairs and Planning program in Virginia Tech’s National Capital Region.