Bailey Honig: Smartphones and Social Anxiety

Imagine a kid who spends his whole day on his phone texting twenty different others but cannot hold a face-to-face conversation with someone for more than a minute. This type of person is oftentimes a result of smartphone overuse and would be considered to have social anxiety. defines social anxiety as “the fear of social situations that involve interaction with other people.” This mental condition makes the affected person less likely to interact with others in fear of being negatively judged. With the increasing popularity and usage of the smartphone around the world, there has come with it an increase in communication. Because of the increase, one would think that people would be less scared of talking to each other, but this is not exactly the case. The increased communication through smartphones has caused people to get used to talking to people behind a screen rather than talking in person, creating a social anxiety among many people. By creating this social anxiety, smartphone usage is ruining our ability to create relationships, making us reliant on technology to create further relationships.

In cases where people already have social anxiety, using a smartphone only masks the mental condition, rather than helping the person build on his or her social skills. According to a study on a group of 367 university students in Turkey, “social phobia in both sexes…make smartphone users more prone to an addictive usage of smartphones.”  If people have a history of being socially anxious, they tend to abuse their smartphones. Donna Reid, a professor at the University of Plymouth, gave an online survey to 158 people and discovered that anxious participants “used texting as a diversion, to kill time or avoid some other activity.” In this way, people who had social anxiety could avoid their fear of communicating with others by looking onto their phone. In this way, the smartphone does mediate the anxiety of the user, but it does not help him or her to build any social skills. Rather than facing their fear and improving their social skills, the socially anxious people avoid the situation and thus gain no experience in talking face-to-face with other people. The phone then becomes a way of not dealing with real life, changing our real-life relationships to become more reliant on technology. In a survey of students at Connecticut College, Cecilia Brown asked participants about their social skills, social anxiety, and technology use. After analyzing the responses Brown discovered that “participants with a higher preference for communicating in online settings had lower social skills than did those with a lower preference for mediated communication.” While it is not certain that there is a direct causation between smartphone usage and lower social skills, there is a significant relationship between the two aspects, thus suggesting a problem with smartphone overuse. By using their smartphones in place of working on their social skills, the socially anxious only make it more difficult on themselves and other people to build real-life relationships.

Many people believe that smartphones do not improve social skills in real life, but it is also suggested that smartphones have created problems in developing those social skills in young children. In her article “A New Kind of Social Anxiety in the Classroom”, Alexandra Ossola discusses how young kids are having trouble in developing social skills due to their smartphone usage. One specific aspect of the smartphone that the author points out is social media. Ossola says that teens are “…using social media as a crutch, a replacement for the in-person interactions that help them develop socially.” Instead of building on real-life social skills and making relationships in person, many kids have turned to social media on their smartphones to make these relationships. The social media aspect of the smartphone has turned the process of relationship-building to become more dependent on technology than real-life social skills. While there is no sufficient evidence to suggest that all people who use social media are hurting their social skills, it is clear that there are people who use it to avoid real-life interactions. By hiding behind their screens and not talking to people in real life, these people miss out on developing their social skills and run into problems when talking to people in real life and cannot hide behind their screens to talk. Ossola notes one of the problems that young people develop from smartphone overuse when she says, “…young people can’t look you in the eye, they get antsy talking to you in person.” Because kids are used to talking to people from behind a screen, many of them feel uncomfortable with making eye contact during a conversation with the person who they are talking to. In making eye contact, many young people that abuse their smartphones feel anxiety from what should be a usual aspect of a face-to-face conversation. Without eye contact, it is difficult for either side of the conversation to feel as much of a connection from the conversation, making it more difficult to create real-life relationships.  

With the constantly growing usage of smartphones, it is important to note that not all people are negatively impacted by communicating through such devices. It seems as if everybody has a smartphone, and not everyone has developed the problems of social anxiety that some smartphone abusers develop. However, there are people who hide from their social anxiety or even develop it from using their smartphones too much. In this way, smartphones are making it much more difficult to establish real-life relationships.