One of our natural (or innate) instincts may be to trust others. Some philosophers have suggested that humans are basically competitive and individualistic, resulting in life being “solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.”1 However, many are now recognising that it has been our willingness to cooperate, show kindness, and trust one another, that have been the reasons for our survival and evolutionary development.2
But, is our trust now under threat from our technology?
Some research is showing that the use of cells phones is having a detrimental effect upon our levels of trust. At least one piece of research suggested that even having a cell phone visible (and not being used) during a conversation about meaningful matters had a deleterious effect upon the quality of the conversation, and the level of trust within the relationship.3
Of course, we don’t need a piece of research to show us this. Simply observing what goes on around us should be sending alarm bells. More than five billion people globally send and receive SMS messages every day. Many of us check our phone 63 times each day with 2/3rds or more checking 160 times every day. 90% of all texts are replied to within three minutes of them being received.
And that addiction has harmful outcomes. Not only is our level of trust compromised, but cell phone use is also implicated in an elevated risk of obesity and suicide risk. Research in the US concluded that teens who spend five or more hours per day on electronic devices are 71% more likely to exhibit suicide risk factors than those who spend an hour or less.
Some will proclaim the benefits of these ‘communication’ devices, claiming that they give us greater access to information, at a faster rate. All very well, except that the use of smartphones tends to diminish our ability to understand the information that we are getting access to. Again, we don’t need to probe too far to realise why this may be the case. How often have you gone online to search for the answer to something and been able to obtain that answer instantly? Yet, if asked what that answer meant, you may have struggled to reply? Simply obtaining an answer does not mean comprehension or understanding.
Yet, we think our instantaneous answers improve our understanding!
Communication. The word is telling, isn’t it? The first part of the word, com, is derived from words that mean together or with, and is related to words such as community, common, accomplice.
It is that part of communication that we are losing through our cell phone addiction. We are losing our togetherness, our sense of community, and ultimately, our trust in one another.
1. Thomas Hobbes in Leviathon (originally published 1651)
2. See for example, Stefan Klein, Survival of the Nicest, Scribe, Melbourne & London, 2014.
3. Andrew Przybylski & Netta Weinstein, Can you connect with me now? How the presence of mobile communication technology influences face-to-face conversation quality, Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, July 19, 2012.