Almost all of America’s grown folk carry cellphones that connect us with the world. Enchanted with these little miracle rectangles, we’re constantly scrolling headlines, adorable puppy photos and accessing every song ever on the fly.
Despite what comedians and columnists tell us, Lee Rainie says, our phones aren’t turning us into isolationists.
This week the Pew Research Center’s technology guru released a study looking at how and when Americans deem it kosher to use our pocket GIF players. After picking the brains of 3,000-some cell users, it looks like we’re a bunch of freakin' hypocrites.
“As a general proposition, Americans view cellphones as distracting and annoying when used in social settings — but at the same time, many use their own devices during group encounters,” Rainie and co-researcher Kathryn Zickuhr write.
While roughly two-thirds of American phone toters have no qualms gabbing or texting on the bus, in the Starbucks line or walking down the street, we’re not wild about our friends being cell-bound in our presence. According to the survey gods, 82 percent of adults say cellphone use hurts the vibe at social gatherings. Regardless, 89 percent of us do it anyway.
“It didn’t surprise me that we got the paradox,” Rainie says. “The real surprise was that when you looked at why they were using it in social settings … turned out they’re doing social stuff.”
Three quarters of responders said that the last time they used their phones, they were doing it for the good of the group — posting group pics, looping in mutual friends or finding info the crew’s interested in (movie times, restaurant reservations, Kanye tweets).
“It’s not like they’re anti-social. It’s not like they’re being rude,” Rainie says.
But sometimes that iPhone clutcher at the party actually is trying to ignore you. Thirty percent say they last turned to their touchscreens intentionally withdrawing from the group; either because the conversation’s a snoozer, the group activity is lame or they would simply rather connect with someone else.
Before Tila Tequila invented the Internet, there was no good data on how disengaged people were in social settings, Rainie says. So, it’s hard to know if smartphone ubiquity made us less interested in 3D conversation. But his takeaway from the study is that if we’re addicted to anything, it’s other people.
“The tagline of all this seems to be we’re not hooked on our gadgets,” he says. “If you want to blame the gadget you’re probably looking at the wrong thing. We’re hooked on each other.”