The fear that digital distractions are ruining our lives and friendships is widespread.
To be sure, digital addiction is real. Consider the 2,600 times we touch our phones every day, our panic when we temporarily misplace a device, the experience of “phantom vibration syndrome” and how merely seeing a message alert can be as distracting as checking the message itself.
This can have real consequences. For example, other people do take it personally if you stop talking to them to answer a message. And taking a break from a task to look at your cell phone precludes deep thinking on whatever you were doing.
But this tells only part of the story. We need to also acknowledge that today’s technologies can make us more connected than ever before.
So how do we avoid the potential pitfalls while still reaping the benefits?
How screens affect our interactions
As a researcher in the area of technology and communications, I have spent nearly two decades looking at the ways in which interacting via screens is different from interacting in other ways, including face-to-face, on the phone and in writing.