Generation Tech: Is Your Smartphone Ruining Your Friendships?

We know it's rude to check our emails in company, but we do it anyway – could keeping in touch with your online mates be alienating your real-life buds?

two girls using phones

Ever find yourself at lunch with a friend, excusing your bad behaviour with one of a variety of excuses? “Sorry, I just need to get back to this work email!” (It’s Saturday.) “Oh, I’ve just got a snap – if I don’t reply right now it’ll disappear.” (Why did you check it in the first place?) “Hold that thought; I just need to get back to this Whatsapp.”

Smartphones have enabled us to be more connected than ever before, staying in daily contact with friends, family and mere acquaintances from all across the globe. But sometimes they also manage to get in the way of real-life relationships, causing a rift between us and the ones we love. Is it time to turn off the tech?

“I hate when I’m with someone who’s using their phone,” says Áine*, who works in sales. “I feel like they’re not paying attention to me. You get people nodding as if they’re listening to what you’re saying, and then they look up, all doe-eyed, like an absolute dope, and you realise they haven’t been listening to you at all!”

Áine herself has, she admits, taken the odd work call while in company, “which really is the only excusable time,” she says. “And usually those calls aren’t that long!”

Dominique*, a social media manager, laments the fact that her job means she has to be “always on”, but says, “I wouldn’t be Whatsapping my friends – I think that’s rude.”

Rude ‘Tude

PR maven Andrea Horan, on the other hand, says there’s never an excuse to choose your phone over the company you’re in. “I’m a busy person,” she says. “I have loads of things I could be doing on my phone, too, but I’ve chosen – as have you – to take time out of what you’re doing to spend this time together. If you’re then going to go on your phone, you’re being very disrespectful of my time.”

Andrea concedes that bad smartphone etiquette hasn’t quite nixed friendships – “people know, by now, how I feel about it; I’m pretty vocal” – but for Áine, it’s definitely been a factor when it comes to deciding who to hang out with, and who not to.

“I just find it so rude!” she exclaims. “It bothers me to the point that, if someone keeps doing it, I’ll definitely think twice about hanging out with them. No one has the time to sit waiting for someone to finish a phone conversation or tweet something… I think people should turn their phones off actually, they shouldn’t even leave them on the table.”

It’s not all bad, though; with 97 percent of under-25s owning smartphones, and 84 percent of Irish people using the internet on a daily basis, it’s fair to say that we like being connected. And without Whatsapp, Viber and Skype, who’s to say how many of our good friends – those who’ve emigrated, or live far away from us – we’d still be in touch with?

False Friendships

“I used to be really anti tech, actually,” says Dominique. “But actually, I think it allows people to be a little more connected – with Whatsapp, Facebooking on the bus… you’re in contact with people more often than you would otherwise be.” Though we might be pinging into each other’s inboxes on the reg, are we genuinely connecting? “I might Whatsapp someone I don’t know that well,” admits Dominique. “But am I making an actual, social connection with them? Or is it a bit more fickle?”

Think about how many contacts you have in your phone – then hop in your DeLorean and ask yourself the same question, had you been born 20 years earlier?

Chances are, we’d have far fewer “friends” than our Facebook figures would lead us to believe.

For brand-builder Andrea, though, there’s no question that smartphones have improved our relationships – her reckoning? You just have to choose how you do it.

“If you decide that you want to enhance your friendships, you work on it!” she declares. “And smartphones definitely enhance friendships. If I didn’t have my phone, it would be harder for me to keep in touch. But you have to respect it, so that you can turn it off in real-life situations. You need to know when’s the time to use it for friendships, and the time not to let it hinder those same friendships.”

Wise words – so for those of us for whom switching off is not an option, now’s the time to familiarise yourselves with the off switch, and get back in touch with the real world.

Psst! This article first appeared in STELLAR’s November 2015 issue. Our January/February issue is on shelves now! 

STELLAR Jan Feb 2017