To Improve Digital Well-Being, Put Your Phone Down And Talk To People


Published:

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Apple and Google recently announced features in their forthcoming mobile operating systems designed to “reduce interruptions and manage screen time.” Android and iOS users alike will soon be able to guard their sleep against digital temptations, easily activate “Do Not Disturb” mode when needed, and get prompted to stop when they have used their favorite apps beyond a personally chosen time limit.

As a psychological scientist who has been studying the effects of mobile technology on well-being for the past five years, I can only welcome these new tools. Indeed, a great deal of research has documented how smartphones might be harming people’s sleep quality or distracting them from nondigital activities. In my own experimental research, my collaborators and I have found consistent evidence that smartphones can also distract users from the family and friends right in front of them, such as when sharing a meal or spending time with their children.

In situations that clearly call for limiting digital distraction – like playtime with kids – Apple’s and Google’s new tools will offer a convenient solution. Yet, my research suggests that smartphones may be making us less happy in a much wider range of social situations than we might expect.

The Limitations Of Choice

The crux of the matter is that people, as it turns out, fail to judge what economists call “opportunity costs” – the value of what someone gives up when they make a choice to do one thing and not another.

For example, in a series of studies I conducted with Jason Proulx and Elizabeth Dunn at the University of British Columbia, we found that people neglect a key side effect of relying on their phones for information: They miss out on chances to boost their sense of social connectedness. Using a mobile map app, for example, obviates the need to rely on other people, removing the opportunity to experience the kindness of a stranger who helpfully provides directions to a store or movie theater.

Just Put The Phone Down

It is easy to see how completely forgoing social interaction for technological convenience can hurt someone’s social well-being. But most people use their phones precisely to socialize – often while simultaneously socializing with others in person. Perhaps it’s having a drink with a co-worker while also Snapchatting with a friend, texting with a partner, or even setting up a new date through Tinder or Grindr. One may think that socializing with more people simultaneously is better.

But my collaborator, Samantha Heintzelman, and I recently found that combining digital and face-to-face socializing is not as enjoyable as putting down the phone and just spending time together.

In a study at the University of Virginia, we tracked the social behavior and well-being of 174 millennials over the course of a week. At five random times each day, we sent each person a one-minute survey to complete on their mobile phone. We asked what they had been doing in the previous 15 minutes, including whether they were socializing in person or digitally (such as by texting or using social media). We also asked how close or distant they were feeling to other people, and how good or bad they were feeling overall.

We weren’t particularly surprised to find that people felt better and more connected during times when they only socialized face-to-face, as compared with when they weren’t socializing at all. This fit with decades of existing research. We didn’t find any benefits of digital socializing over not socializing at all, though our study wasn’t designed to explore that distinction.

We did find, however, that when socializing face-to-face only, people felt happier and more connected to others than when they were socializing only through their phones. This is notable because the people in our study were the generation of so-called “digital natives,” who had been using smartphones, tablets and computers to interact since very young ages. Even for them, the benefits gleaned from good old face-to-face talking exceeded the well-being of digitally mediated communication.

Most critically, people felt worse and less connected when they mixed face-to-face with digital socializing, compared to when they solely socialized in person. Our results suggest that digital socializing doesn’t add to, but in fact subtracts from, the psychological benefits of nondigital socializing.

Giving People A Fighting Chance

As people’s useful digital devices start to provide more and better options for limiting screen time and staving the flow of digital interruptions, deciding when to use those powers is neither obvious nor intuitive. Behavioral science provides some promising solutions to this predicament.

Rather than having to decide activity by activity when not to be interrupted, people could make Do Not Disturb the default, only seeing notifications when they want to. My recent research – with Nicholas Fitz and Dan Ariely at Duke University’s Center for Advanced Hindsight – suggests, however, that never receiving notifications hurts well-being by increasing fear of missing out. The best way is the middle way: We found that setting the phone to deliver batches of notifications three times a day optimized well-being. To set their users up for optimal psychological benefits from both their digital and nondigital activities, Google and Apple could make batching notifications easier.

Google and Apple should also expand their proactive recommendations for managing interruptions. The iPhone, for example, already offers the option to automatically turn on Do Not Disturb while driving, and in the forthcoming features, while sleeping. The growing evidence on how smartphones are compromising well-being during social interactions suggests that social and family time also warrants protection from digital disturbance.

People spend more time in the company of their digital gadgets than with friends and even romantic partners. It is only fair that these devices should learn more about what makes people happy, and provide a chance to reclaim the happiness lost to digital activity – and from the companies that need people’s attention to thrive.

Kostadin Kushlev is broadly interested in the factors that promote or diminish happiness and well-being. His research program explores how constant connectivity to the Internet impacts people’s relationships and well-being and how we can harness technology to improve well-being and promote positive behavioral change. More at www.kushlev.com.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

See also:
How Big Wireless War-Gamed The Science On Risks, While Making Customers Addicted To Their Phones
How To Kick Your Digital Addiction And Learn To Live Again

The Conversation
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Daily Astrology

October 22, 2018

Aggressive, impatient tendencies are on the rise. For one thing, the Moon is nearing its full phase. Another factor is the Sun’s approaching opposition to unpredictable Uranus. Keep your impulses under control this morning. The swelling Moon is at odds…
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Alternative Health Directory

Browse all listings »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

October 2018

October 21 - 22 (Workshop is 10-5 daily) This is one of Sergio's most powerful workshops, where you learn to use the sacred Toltec map of transformation. The crystal skulls symbolize...

Where:
Natick Mariott Courtyard
Natick, MA


Contact Name: Sandy Corcoran
Website »

More information

With Yogi Amandeep How many burdens do you carry? When stress, obligations and responsibilities become really heavy, are you wise enough to let go? Free the mind from burden and experience...

Where:
Yoga at the Ashram
368 Village St
Millis, MA  02054
View map »


Telephone: (508) 376-4525
Website »

More information

Kinetic Chain Release, moxibustion and past life regression at Leapin Lizards. Every third Sunday: 9/16/18 10/21/18 11/18/18 12/16/18 For information, call Leapin Lizards at (207)...

Where:
Leapin Lizards
449 Forest Ave
Portland, ME
View map »


Telephone: (207) 221-2363
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
No Events

The investigation continues… A skeptical ghost hunter teams with a medium to investigate paranormal mysteries. More Ghost Chronicles will provide a unique perspective...

Cost: $10

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
386 Merrimack Street
Suite 1-A
Methuen, MA  01844
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: Cathy Kneeland
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Six-mile Stonewalk in honor of victims of violence begins in Boston and ends at Boston College on October 24, UN Day. In July of 1994, a contribution was made to The Peace Abbey in Sherborn, MA...

Where:
Garden of Peace
64-98 Somerset Street
Boston, MA  02108
View map »


Sponsor: The Peace Abbey
Telephone: 508-259-8508
Contact Name: Lewis Randa
Website »

More information

Ever wonder why some places are haunted, even new houses or businesses? Or some people? What do you do if your business is haunted? Shamanic practitioner Deb Fate-Mental of Elder Grove Shamanic...

Cost: $40

Where:
Perfect Fit Pilates
85 Main St
Ground Floor
Hopkinton, MA  01748
View map »


Sponsor: Perfect Fit Plates
Telephone: 508-948-0568
Contact Name: Judy Malcolm
Website »

More information

The class is a combination of qi gong, yoga, meditation, and relaxation followed by a cup of healing tea. The class, developed by Korean enlightened master Ilchi Lee, is based on Sundo, a...

Cost: $10

Where:
Divine Paradigm
58b Macy St
Amesbury, MA  01913
View map »


Contact Name: Brad Fanger

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

The H.E.A.R.T. Program® (Health Empowerment and Real Transformation) is an innovative holistic curriculum addressing the current health crisis and epidemics of obesity, heart disease, and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Wilbraham Senior Center
45 Post Office Park, #4502
Wilbraham, MA  01095
View map »


Sponsor: Harmony Way
Telephone: 413-636-2475
Contact Name: Michelle Caron
Website »

More information

Daily practice for peace, healing, Christ mindedness, meditation, awakening.

Where:
Milton, MA


Telephone: 617-696-5685
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

October 26 - 28 14 PDAs! This weekend is a full immersion into the Daoist arts of qigong, meditation, Daoist  philosophy, and tea ceremony. Drawing on Solala’s 28 years of study of...

Cost: Please see our website

Where:
Eastover Estate & Eco Village
430 East St.
Lenox, MA  01240
View map »


Telephone: 866-264-5139
Website »

More information

With Master Glenn Mendoza and Angel Mystic Birkan Tore Learn how to heal with angels in this talk facilitated by Master Pranic Healer Glenn Mendoza and Angel Mystic Birkan Tore. Learn to invoke...

Cost: $97, bring a friend for free

Where:
Homewood Suites by Hilton
145 Beech St.
Chelsea, MA  02150
View map »


Telephone: 877-787-3792
Website »

More information

Alexander Dreyshner, Dima Klim, and Mitch Nur on the world’s storehouse of indigenous musical instruments. This ambient mode soundscape includes didjeridoo, gongs, harmonic overtone singing,...

Cost: $38

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
386 Merrimack Street
Suite 1-A
Methuen, MA  01844
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: Cathy Kneeland
Website »

More information

Bee Kind Music Class with Carrie Rowan inspires a love to music in little ones. 10am on Fridays for 8 weeks at Playtown Express in Southboro. To register call (508) 480-0022 or...

Where:
Playtown Express
150 Cordaville Road
Southboro, MA
View map »


Telephone: 508-273-2610
Website »

More information

The class is a combination of qi gong, yoga, meditation, and relaxation followed by a cup of healing tea. The class, developed by Korean enlightened master Ilchi Lee, is based on Sundo, a...

Cost: $10

Where:
Divine Paradigm
58b Macy St
Amesbury, MA  01913
View map »


Contact Name: Brad Fanger

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

October 27–28, 2018, 9AM–6PM Unlock your inner healing abilities and learn from one of the only eight master pranic healers in the world! What is Pranic Healing? Pranic...

Cost: $75–$350

Where:
Homewood Suites by Hilton
145 Beech St.
Chelsea, MA  02150
View map »


Telephone: 877-787-3792
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags