WSC Network Research Highlight: The Social Price of Smartphones

By: Keaton Fletcher

Smartphones have become pervasive. Work Science Center Network Member, Kostadin Kushlev, recently published a review on the social costs of smartphone usage. Smartphones are designed to capture our attention, and increased use has been shown to increase perceived distraction and negative mood while decreasing feelings of social connectedness, meaning, and enjoyment. Beyond the negative effects of being distracted by a smartphone during social situations, smartphones have begun to eliminate the need for many common social interactions, altogether. The authors offer the Starbucks Mobile app as an example of how smartphones have eliminated trivial, but beneficial, social interactions. Individuals can place their coffee orders using their smartphones, and pick them up at Starbucks, all without having to speak to another human. Many of these effects, though significant and meaningful, are small, however, suggesting that the benefits of smartphones may outweigh the minimal costs. On the other hand, the authors argue that the frequency with which we use our phones magnifies the impact of these minimal effects, potentially resulting in cumulative negative effects over longer periods of time.

With regard to the workplace, the increased prevalence and use of smartphones comes with a range of potential benefits and risks. Workers can have quick, and pretty consistent access to the internet and all of the information that comes with it. Organizations can develop and deploy smartphone applications to facilitate their workers’ tasks (e.g., Square App to allow quick payment acceptance). On the other hand, smartphones may increase social loafing, known in this case as cyberloafing, in which workers spend their worktime engaging with their phones for leisure rather than for work. Phones may also increase the experience of telepressure—feelings of having to work or “be on” when the employee is home or away from

work and during non-work hours. Smartphones are unlikely to go away, so the question is how do we move forward, navigating how to maximize their benefits while minimizing their costs, particularly to our psychological wellbeing?

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