Mobile Technology: Its Effect on Face-to-Face Communication and Interpersonal Interaction

Lucas Lengacher
Huntington University


Technology has influenced the world in many positive ways. I researched and examined the question of how technology effects communication? Technology is great for communication when it comes to connecting with family and friends who live far away. But what are the effects of say: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, text messaging, etc. on every day face-to-face conversation? This paper explores the possibility of how increased exposure to communicating pathways may actually lessen communication. Mobile technology is anything one can do on phones. Due to smartphones and the availability of them one can access the internet, therefore being able to do countless things on their phones. So the research is inclusive to texting or voice calls, but also includes the countless applications one can download on a phone. Unfortunately, research shows that mobile technology is affecting communication in a negative way when it comes to sociability and face-to-face communication. Researchers have found that mobile technology can decrease communication and intimacy. The results too many research studies seem to point out is that mobile technology lessens social interaction and face-to-face communication do to the availability of stimulants online, which requires less outside stimulants such as interaction and body-to-body sociability. Not only does mobile technology decrease social isolation it seems that internet usage can cause feelings of loneliness and busyness as well.

Mobile Technology: Its Effect on Face-to-Face Communication and Interpersonal Interaction

Mobile devices are everywhere we turn, they have for many people become an essential part of life, not only are they essential in communicating they are critical in the way one accesses the internet. It is seldom we find a cell phone where we cannot use its internet capabilities to shop, play, calculate, read, communicate, etc. We live in a time in which we are permanently visible and available at all times through our many internet outlets. One needs only look around at the average social setting and see the impact of this technology on society. We see silent tables at the café, quiet train commutes, and expressionless faces on walks. There seems to be “a disconnect with all this connection” (Tuck, 2014). The availability of instant communication seems to distract us from the communication opportunities in front of us. It not only seems to lessen face-to-face communication but multiple studies have shown that internet usage can cause feelings of loneliness and busyness. Studies have also exposed the negative effects they have on body-to-body sociability, psychological well-being, and intimacy. Because internet access is standard in most all mobile devices we will include it in the term mobile technology. Texting is still included in the term but the term mobile technology is not necessarily inclusive to just texting communication. To understand mobile communication one must first see how it has grown and changed.

In 1997, no 13-year olds that were studied owned a mobile device, but by 2001 90% of teens interviewed owned one (Ling, 2004). A study was conducted by a teacher, Richardson, to see this impact on his classroom. He is a teacher who has experienced the impact of mobile phones in his classroom. He teaches theatre, and this is what he said, “the freedom of choice and control that students associate with their use of smartphones…shapes the way in which they experience and respond to live theatre” (Richardson, 2014). He is not only seeing a disruption but also a misusage of the responsibility giving to students by these devices. Another study backed this study up when it found that Facebook users reported lower mean GPA’s and reported spending fewer hours per week studying on average then Facebook nonusers (Munoz, 2013). Richardson’s study also brought out the strong temptation audience members feel to check their phones when being involved with something else. In a theatre setting one must perform to keep the attention of the listeners. If this is the case for a medium of entertainment with the sole purpose of pulling people away from everyday life and transporting them to a different place and time, how must an everyday person in an everyday situation perform to maintain the listeners’ attention? Ultimately, conversation would seem to get too hard and people will start retreating from it because of the performance one would have to maintain to be more interesting then what is going on mobily. Some may retreat as far as to then develop feelings of loneliness.

There is a growing body of research examining the relationship between personality traits and Internet use. Some researchers have noted that heavy internet users seem alienated from normal social contacts. Users feel a bigger sense of loneliness (Amichai-Hamburger & Ben-Artzi, 2003). Studies have been done on loneliness and the individual’s well-being, this research shows that male internet users who experience loneliness had no relation to neuroticism, or extraversion. But for women loneliness is significantly related to both neuroticism and the use of social services in the internet (Amichai-Hamburger & Ben-Artzi, 2003). This study showed that extroverts and introverts use different services on the internet. The main service used by all personalities and most everyone is Facebook.

A study showed that when Facebook usage is low, the positive relationship between extraversion and empathic social skills is strong (Chan, 2014). As Facebook usage increases there is a decline on positive extraversion and empathic social skills (Chan, 2014). This may suggest the possible replacement of real-life relationships with digital ones. This replacement, that seems to be occurring decreases body-to-body sociability. In recent sociological examination many scholars have argued for the increase of social isolation, for example internet use has seemed to have a “displacement effect” on physically proximate interactions (Fortunati, Taiplae, & Luca, 2012). A study conducted by Martha Munoz also supports these findings. She found that computer usage lacks the nonverbal and environmental cues that are present in face-to-face communication, which makes one feel less burdened when interacting with others in an online context rather than a face-to-face interaction (2013). In her study she also found, when studying two groups of people, that the group who preferred online communication was perceived less socially skillful than those who preferred face-to-face interactions (Munoz, 2013).

This lack of preferred face-to-face interaction can lead to social intimacy problems pointed out by Larissa Hjorth and Sun Sun Lim (2012). They stated that with the mobility of the internet mobile media both “blur and reinstate boundaries between online and offline worlds” (Hjorth & Lim, 2012). It is important to know that intimacy has many levels. This intimacy mentioned does not refer to intimacies between lovers, family, or friends; it is mentioned more in the context of society and how internet communications infuse private and public spaces. With this infusion comes a cheapening of “social labor," which refers to the way that conversation and interaction can easily be directed and lead by what is going on mobily (Hjorth & Lim, 2012). Ultimately, conversation is no longer hard because tweets, posts, and articles give all the material one needs to start and maintain a conversation, though the shallowness of conversation comes into critique.

One can not only be directed and lead by communication, one can also feel in control. The most significant category indicated in a study done by Madell and Muncer showed that young people often liked to use communication media to communicate because it affords them more control over the interaction (2007). Communicating using text messaging, and instant messaging allows one time to stop and think before a response can be made. But also it allows participants in the conversation to retain the conversational nature of interaction that is preferred. This type of communication also allows for more socially accepted gaps in the conversation, ability to conceal the truth, and the use of emoticons to elaborate the meanings of statements (Madell & Muncer, 2007). But in viewing text-messaging negatively, one can easily be misunderstood, especially comments of a sarcastic nature. Text messaging, instant messaging and emailing allows for communicators to review and edit what is being said. Not only does mobile technology seem to affect our social skills and interactions. It also affects our psychological well-being.

Strong social ties are the relationships that generally buffer people from life’s stresses, which ultimately lead to better social and psychological outcomes (Kraut, Patterson, Lundmark, Kiesler, Mukopadhyay, & Scherlis, 1998). With the increased use of technology and the potentially of the internet reducing the importance of physical proximity, social ties may falter leading to ill health. Addictions develop when people depend on a technological device to produce favorable outcomes (Walsh, White, & Young, 2010). Over time the activity becomes a primary source of pleasure and a major focus in an individual’s life. There is actually a scale that determines ones symptoms of addictions related to mobile phones. Problematic mobile phone usage was defined as continued mobile phone use in spite of negative outcomes and societal restrictions. In a study performed researchers found that younger people, extroverts and people with lower self-esteem were more likely to engage in problematic phone use, which leads to unhealthy behavioral problems, such as not sleeping well (Walsh, White, et al. 2010). This research about people with lower self-esteem using technology more often, in some ways, showed that users may be using the mobile phones as a form of self-esteem enhancement. Another study was performed which found that people with this addiction were also more likely to have symptoms of other pathological behaviors, such as substance abuse, dependency, and gambling (Kraut, Patterson, et al. 1998).

The study of Walsh and White also explored self-identity, which developed over time as externalized roles and behaviors became an internalized part of the person’s self-concept (2010). Mobile phones have been recognized as a form of self-expressive identity (Fidalgo, Telleria, Carvalheiro, Canavilhas, & Correia, 2013). Self-identity has also been found to predict level of mobile use. These findings suggest it would be worthwhile to study whether self-identity is related to the level of involvement that people have with their mobile phone.

Research has consistently shown that many young people believe mobile phone use enhances social inclusion by allowing them to remain in contact with friends at all times. Some users even express feelings of being valued and loved when they receive contact on their mobile phones. The opposite is just as significant. When the users don’t receive contact, feelings of being uncared for by others begin to take hold (Fidalgo, Telleria, et al. 2013). This lead one columnist to write, “the greatest gift [one] can offer another person is your ability to listen, to let that person feel that you are intent on what he or she is saying. That you have all the time in the world for [that person]” (Coleman, 2000).



The participants of this study were selected from the undergraduate population of Huntington University. With the availability and accessibility to the undergraduate peers around me the graduate and doctoral students present at Huntington University were excluded. Huntington University students would be a very good representation of what I want to study due to their diverse backgrounds and their similar social economic status. This sample represents the millennial generation and their knowledge of mobile technologies. This sample is a good representation of how mobile technologies have affected face-to-face communication and social interaction since this generation is the first generation that has been, since a young age, saturated with technology exposure. 257 students were surveyed. From that population students were extracted by eliminating factors of the survey, due to them having an Android phone, were field studied and questioned further. Participates had to have an Android to participate in the field study because the application used to track mobile data usage was only programed for Android devices. This may have limited the possible population of participants due to the fact participants have many different types of phones.


At the beginning of the study a survey was released to the Huntington student body asking respondents to answer questions trying to understand their position and attitudes on phone usage. How often they use their phone? As well as how they feel about when others use their phones around them? This survey was released to the undergraduate population of Huntington by email. The survey included questions about usage as well as situations where they would be interacting with people who may possibly be on their phone. Respondents had to rate on a scale (Highly Disagree to Highly Agree) on how they feel about these situations. One of the demographic questions of the survey asked the respondents if they have an Android phone. If they did they were asked to leave their email I then contacted them with the instructions for Phase 2.

Phase 2 of the study asked each participant to download an app called RescueTime©. This app running in the background of their mobile device tracked how much one uses their phone automatically. It tracked how many times one picks up their phone each day, and it breaks down each day to see when users are on your device most often. This app also tracked what applications the user used most often throughout the day. RescueTime© breaks the amount of phone usage down into categories. The most common categories was communication and scheduling, reference and learning, social networking, entertainment, and uncategorized. This is an invisible app. Once the participant sets it up and as long as the app is running in the background, they never have to open it again. After a week of using this app, RescueTime© sent the user a summary of what they did on their phone that week. I then instructed the participants to forward their data summary, received from RescueTime©, to me. After I received participants weekly summary I had them fill out a relationship satisfaction survey (Appendix A). Participants were asked to think of a relationship in their life and take the survey thinking of that specific relationship. The survey developed by David Burns was initially developed to assess ones most intimate relationship. It did not have to be a romantic relationship, but it had to be one of significance. The test is designed to asses ones most intimate relationships, that being a partner, friend, or family member. The participants filled out each box and the results were calculated. The results of the survey told me how satisfied that person was with their relationships. The results of the relationship survey and tracking data log from RescueTime© was compared and analyzed to find a correlation between amount of time spent on a mobile phone and how satisfied the participants felt with their designated relationship.


After the allotted time came to a close the results of the responses from the survey, the data from the app and the additional survey, relationship satisfaction, was analyzed. The survey provided very good insight into the mobile phone habits of the respondents. I found that almost 60 percent of people felt disconnected from others when they were on their phone (Appendix B). To assess peoples habits I asked how often one thought they spend on their phone each day. I also asked how many times they checked their phone during a standard 50 minute class period and after waking up how much time passes before they check their phone. I found that 70 percent of people check their phone within the first five minutes of the day (Appendix C). A surprising 88 percent of people felt disconnected at dinner because of people they were eating with using their phone (Appendix D).

When measuring my findings with a Pearson r correlation I found that phone use is negatively correlated with discomfort in approaching others on their phone at a measure of -.129, which is significant at the .05 significance level. It was also negatively correlated with sharing space with friends who are on their own phones at a significance level of -.167, holding its significance at .01. However, heavier phone users report higher levels of discomfort with others when the respondent is on his/her phone. Also, I found that higher phone usage brings acceptance of others high usage. This causes intimate environments to be perceived similarly to more public environments in terms of phone usage. Those who are heavy phone users are more likely to find acceptable the use of said technology in both spaces, either intimate like dinner or chapel or public, standing in line, or walking down the sidewalk.

After the survey I did an in depth study of seven individuals’ mobile phone usage. With the lowest phone usage of one participant at 4 hours and 49 minutes to a drastic increase of another user of 16 hours and 50 minutes. When averaged this between the seven people studied I found that on average a person spends 10 hours a week on their phone. When calculated monthly that’s 50 hours, yearly that’s over 24 days out of the year an average person between the ages of 18-24 spends on their mobile device (Appendix E). The majority of participants spent their majority of time in the category of communication and scheduling, entertainment, social networking, and uncategorized. The entertainment category consisted of music, Android gallery, YouTube, and camera. Uncategorized included Snapchat, various websites, Facebook messenger, and Android systems. Utilities included calculator, Task manager, alarm, Android settings, and Android systems. There were also categories or Business, Shopping, and News categories.

The relationship survey that was given to the participants who downloaded RescueTime© did not seem to record the behaviors I thought. There was no significant relationship between how much time they spend on their phone and relationship satisfaction. All seven participants were between slightly satisfied to moderately satisfied in their relationships despite how much time spent on their mobile device.


Findings were not what I anticipated; there was a negative correlation between phone usage and approachability, initiation, and proximity in context of communication, which did not support my hypothesis of, when phone usage increases relationship satisfaction will decrease. This study did support some of the other research I found. In Kraut, Patterson, et. al’s research which found that social ties is what helps people handle life stressors. My research found that many people felt disconnected from others when they were on their phones. This may cause weaker social ties.

Also in the research of Larissa Hjorth and Sun Sun Lim (2012) who found that the mobility of the internet can “blur and reinstate boundaries between online and offline worlds.” This lack of preferred face-to-face interaction can lead to social intimacy problems pointed out by Hjorth and Lim (2012). It seemed in my study that there seems to be more of a graying of space. There was no black and white areas of when, where, and how often one should use their phone. Most situations were acceptable. It was found to be okay to use ones phone in intimate environments like dinner, it was also found to be acceptable to use them at university chapels. The intimates environments were treated the same as the public environments such as standing in line or walking down the sidewalk. This can be due to the fact that people spend a lot of time on their devices. High usage brings high acceptability.


Amichai-Hamburger, Y., & Ben-Artzi, E. (2003). Loneliness and internet use: Computers in Human Behavior, 19, 71-80. Retrieved from www.elseviar.com/locate/comphumbeh

Burns, D. (1993). Ten Days to Self-Esteem. New York, NY: HarperCollins

Chan, T. H. (2014). Facebook and its effects on users’ empathic social skills and life satisfaction: A double-edged sword effect. CyberPsychology, Behavior & Social Networking, 17(5), 276-280. doi:10.1089/cyber.2013.0466

Coleman, J. (2000). Is technology making us intimate strangers? [Special issue]. Newsweek, 135(131), 12.

Fidalgo, A., Telleria, A. S., Carvalheiro, JR., Canavilhas, J., & Correia, JC. (2013). Human being as a communication portal: The construction of the profile on mobile phones. Revista Latina de Comunicacion Social, 68, 545-565. doi:10.4185/RLCS-2013-989en

Fortunati, L., Taipale, S., & Luca, F. (2012). What happened to body-to-body sociability? Social Science Research, 42, 893-905. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ssresearch.2012.12.006

Hjorth, L., & Lim, S. (2012). Mobile intimacy in an age of affective mobile media. Feminist Media Studies, 12(4), 477-484. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14680777.2012.741860

Kraut, R., Patterson, M., Lundmark, V., Kiesler, S., Mukopadhyay, T., & Scherlis, W. (1998). Internet paradox: A social technology that reduces social involvement and psychological well-being? Academic Search Premier, 53, 1-25. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.53.9.1017

Ling, R. S. (2004). The mobile connection: The cell phone’s impact on society. Amsterdam: Elsevier/Morgan Kaufmann.

Ling, R. S. (2012). Taken for grantedness: The embedding of mobile communication into society. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.

Madell, D. E., & Muncer S. J. (2007). Control over social interactions: A important reason for young people’s use of internet and mobile phones for communication? CyberPsychology & Behavior, 10(1), 137-140. doi:10.1089/cpb.2006.9980

Munoz, M., (2013). Preference for online communication and its effect on perceived social skills and academic performance (Master’s thesis). Available from Online Computer Library Center, Inc. database. (UMI No. 858587514)

Richardson, J. (2014). Powerful devices: How teen’s smartphones disrupt power in the theatre, classroom, and beyond. Learning, Media and Technology, 39(3), 368-385. doi:10.1080/17439884.2013.867867

Tuck, G. (2014, April 15). Look up [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7dLU6fk9QY

Walsh, S. P., White, K. M., & Young, R.M. (2010). Needing to connect: The effect of self and others on young people’s involvement with their mobile phones. Australian Journal of Psychology, 62(4), 194-203. doi:10.1080/00049530903567229

Appendix A

Very Dissatisfied
Moderately Dissatisfied
Slightly Dissatisfied
Slightly Satisfied
Moderately Satisfied
Very Satisfied
1. Communication and openness
2. Resolving conflicts and arguments
3. Degree of affection and caring
4. Intimacy and closeness
5. Satisfaction with your role in the relationship
6. Satisfaction with the other person’s role
7. Overall satisfaction with your relationship
Total score on items 1- 7 ^


Level of

0 – 10 extremely dissatisfied
11 – 20 very dissatisfied
21 - 25 moderately dissatisfied
26 – 30 somewhat dissatisfied
31 – 35 somewhat satisfied
36 – 40 moderately satisfied
41 – 42 very satisfied

* Relationship Satisfaction Survey modified from Ten Days to Self-Esteem (1993), by David D. Burns

Appendix B


Appendix C


Appendix D


Appendix E

Communication & Scheduling Entertainment Social Networking Uncategorized Reference & Learning Utilities


Participant 1 46m 57s 54m 14s 5 h 12 m 4h 57m 1h 4m 1h 56m 15h 7m
Participant 2 4h 54m 7m 57s 21 m 29s 41m 45s 52m 49s 7h 2m
Participant 3 2h 4m 49s 13m 49s 1h 34m 2m 26s 47m 27s 4h 49m
Participant 4 12m 59s 8h 49m 1h 12m 27m 21s 1h 9m 30m 22s 12h 49m
Participant 5 3h 2m 16m 29s 1h 55m 1h 12m 2h 11m 8h 27m
Participant 6 29m 39s 1h 12m 49m 46s 2h 26m 15m 37s 5h 45m
Participant 7 9h 59m 52m 29s 1h 43m 49m 34s 2h 35m 48m 34s 16h 50m
21h 49m 35s 13h 15m 29s 11h 23m 18s 9h 41m 6s 8h 8m 30s 5h 4m 53s 70h 49m


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