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UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Digitally connected, socially disconnected : can smartphones compromise the benefits of interacting with others?
 Kushlev, Kostadin


Since the first computers began entering people’s homes more than 30 years ago, human-computer interactions (HCI) have become central to people’s everyday activities. A decade later, the Internet powered another technological revolution by connecting computers and transforming how people connect with one another. And less than 10 years ago, the advent of ultraportable computing devices such as smartphones has marked the beginning of yet another technological age—one in which people can connect to unlimited digital worlds everywhere they go. In this digital age of pervasive computing, people can foster a sense of connectedness with others virtually anywhere. But could this ubiquitous connectivity have hidden costs for the fabric of people’s nondigital social lives? To provide an initial insight into this question, I examine how smartphones may be affecting both the quality and the quantity of people’s in-person social interactions. I show that smartphones can fracture attention and compromise the social connectedness parents reap when spending time with their children at a summer festival (Study 1) and at a science museum (Study 2). Beyond the realm of close relationships, I find preliminary evidence that smartphones may affect the social and emotional benefits people realize when they have the opportunity to forge new relationships—both while having food together (Study 3) and while waiting together (Study 4). And, using nationally representative data from the World Values Survey (Study 5) and data from a controlled experiment (Study 6), I show that smartphones may be affecting the broader social fabric of society by compromising opportunities to cultivate a sense of trust in others. Finally, I theorize more broadly about how and when ubiquitous connectivity may undermine or support social and emotional well-being. Specifically, I propose factors that may both moderate and mediate (e.g., asynchronisity, capitalization, social signaling) the effects of ubiquitous connectivity.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada