We used to talk to the person in line behind us. Now we look at our phones.

Mar 8, 2017
Originally published on March 7, 2017 3:47 pm

 

What’s the first thing you do when you’re waiting at the post office or a bus stop?

Likely, you whip out your smart phone. That's according to Daniel Kruger, a scientist with the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan.

Kruger designed an observational study to explore what people do in their down time. He found that most people start using their phones within 10 seconds of waiting. Within 20 seconds, 80% of people are typing, swiping, or scrolling.

Kruger described this phenomenon as evidence of a change in how humans interact with their “virtual worlds.” It’s possible that the more people engage in those social connections that exist online, Kruger said, the less time people spend connecting with those in their immediate environment. Rather than getting to know the barista or the barber, folks are checking their email or their Instagram.

Kruger wonders about young people who are growing up in today’s smartphone-saturated world.

“What happens when they actually have to talk to a stranger in real-life social space? Are they going to be able to carry on appropriate social interactions? Are they going to be limited just to the friends that they have in their virtual social network?”

For many, it’s increasingly hard to imagine what life was like before cell phones ate up so much of our down time. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, Kruger said. Ultimately, he recommends balance.

“Carve out some time for real life interactions, for some social space, for meeting and talking to strangers,” Kruger said, “so we don’t lose that human connection.”

Hear more about how cell phones have changed the waiting game, including evidence that points to a difference between how men and women engage with this technology, in our interview above.

 
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