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The many ways your smartphone is trying to  control you….

Friday, June 2, 2017
posted by Rita Handrich

While you may think most of the things we write about here are on litigation advocacy (and you would be correct) we also care about you, dear reader.

We have written often about smartphones and their ubiquitous presence in our lives. This is a post to update you on the increasingly cruel reality of the role smartphones play in our emotional experiences, how they accentuate our personality traits, and the ways they affect our work lives.

Excessive smart phone use leads to emotional problems

This finding stems from research at SUNY Binghamton where they found smartphone use could result in “depression, social isolation, social anxiety, shyness, impulsivity and low self-esteem. Females were most likely to exhibit susceptibility to addiction.” The researchers surveyed 182 undergraduate students by asking them questions about their smartphone use on a typical day. They then categorized the respondents based on their answers into the following categories: Thoughtful, Regular, Highly Engaged, Fanatic and Addict.

If you wonder how they developed these categories and why the labels sound judgmental—the researchers answer that question this way: “building on the analysis of 15 in-depth interviews and 182 exploratory open-ended surveys collected from smartphone users, we apply the concept of liability to addiction in the IT use context and propose a typological theory of user liability to IT addiction. Our typology reveals five ideal types; each can be associated to a user profile (ADDICT, FANATIC, HIGHLY ENGAGED, REGULAR AND THOUGHTFUL).”

[Essentially, what this means is they made it up. And as to why some of the labels seem judgmental—we will leave that for you to ponder.]

The reported findings will not surprise you if you own a smartphone. “Seven percent [of the participants were] identified [by the researchers] as “addicts” and 12 percent [were labeled by the researchers] as “fanatics.” Both groups [based on the researchers qualitative analysis] experience personal, social and workplace problems due to a compulsive need to be on their smartphones.”

You may also want to check out a brief list of “problem signs” in smartphone use which (the researchers say) may mean you need to consult “a professional”.

In addition to the emotional issues above, there is also concern about whether smartphones are (in combination with increased overall “screen time” reducing our social skills and causing increased shyness. The short answer, at least from these authors, is that we remain simultaneously shy and sociable and our smartphones allow new ways for us express that juxtaposition. [It is possible, based on the other entries in this post, that the authors with this pleasant explanation on shyness actually works for the smartphone industry.]

Smart phones are sneakily changing our morals

How you respond to an ethical dilemma requiring a quick decision (on something in either your work or home life where the stakes are high but the time frame for response is short) seems to depend on whether you are communicating your response on a smartphone or on a computer with a traditional keyboard. [This is so not good.] This study is out of London and was published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior. Tom Jacobs (an always excellent writer over at PSMag) brought this article to our attention and he quotes the authors and then offers his own interpretation of their work:

“in general, more hurried or time-pressured responses are thought to be aligned with more emotional/gut feeling decisions.”

In other words, when we’re rushed, we tend to rely on our intuitive responses, which—in the case of moral questions—means falling back onto a set of basic rules we learned in childhood. But, oddly, Barque-Duran and his colleagues found that is not the case when the troubling information is conveyed via smartphone.

Instead, what the researchers found when the information was conveyed via smartphone screens, was that rather than falling back on our playground values, the small screen somehow encourages us to psychologically distance and to make practical or utilitarian decisions rather than emotional and intuitive ones. The researchers say the small screen seems to result in psychological distance and thus decisions are less emotionally based.

Regardless of how it works, we clearly need more research on how the ever-present small screens interact with how we make decisions.

There is some good news though!

The interruptibility model: Researchers are looking into ways to help us teach our smartphones when to interrupt us with notifications so we can actually get some work done. New research findings which shockingly report that “inappropriate or untimely smartphone interruptions annoy users, decrease productivity and affect emotions” is being presented this month at the “premier international conference on human-computer interactions”. The researchers refer to it as an “interruptibility model” and you can view their graphical representation here. Hopefully, it will not take them long to disseminate their results to the rest of us!

Lessons from research: There are also ways we can decrease our addictive (aka constant, obsessive, ritualistic) use of smartphones and you can see those results here. Be forewarned: the recommendations involve suggestions like keeping your phone out of reach, turning off the sound, and classifying your apps as good or evil.

Older adults are adopting technology: Finally! A record share (42%) of senior citizens (65+) now own smartphones. While this may mean Grandma may not look at you but instead, text her friends furiously and update her Facebook status constantly, it also means, older Americans are likely to develop the same ambivalence with which many of us view our smartphones.

Barque-Duran, A., Pothos, E., Hampton, J., & Yearsley, J. (2017). Contemporary morality: Moral judgments in digital contexts. Computers in Human Behavior, 75, 184-193 DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2017.05.020

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