You’re walking down Church Street on your way to Anderson Hall when your phone buzzes in your back pocket. You pull it out and start texting your friend back about that really bad picture on Instagram of that girl you hate.
Just then your roommate darts across the street and bumps into you yelling: “Are you kidding me, that was the best opportunity and you just missed it!” You have no idea what she’s talking about until you see him in the far distance. It’s that super-hot guy from your biology class last semester and you left the semester without any way of contacting him—nope, he doesn’t even have any social media; that mysterious type always draws you in.
You’ve been talking about him nonstop all summer and your friends are dying for you to make a move so they can stop listening to the same old story about him. If only you had just been looking up.
You are not alone in this problem. Missing romantic opportunities or allowing your mobile device to send nonverbal signals of “I’m busy” is a problem others are having on campus and beyond.
Maybe you’ve already noticed this, but a study done in 2014 by Miles L. Patterson, Vanessa M. Lammers and Mark E. Tubbs looked into how short-lived, unfocused pedestrian interactions are affected by cell phone usage.
The study involved 500 pedestrians who were unaware they were being observed for the study as they walked by volunteers who were assigned to provide different types and levels of greetings.
When these pedestrians walked by the volunteers collecting data, the volunteer would look at the pedestrian, smile or say hello.
Then the volunteers would discreetly record their observations of the pedestrian’s interaction from a far distance from the experimental sidewalk area to ensure pedestrians would remain unaware they were being observed.
About half of the pedestrians were using their cell phone in some way including talking on it, using the keyboard or reading the screen.
The other half were not using their cell phones while they were encountered by the volunteers collecting data.
Within the study, Patterson and his colleagues found several trends.
The first is that the more a person engages another on the sidewalk, the more they are likely to smile, nod or verbally greet the other. The second is that while using a cell phone, females are less likely to engage with another person passing.
Overall the results showed that mobile device usage is affecting our pedestrian interactions, but it is not yet clear just how much of a concern the effects are in our everyday lives.
How often would you expect that someone would respond back with a look, smile or verbal greeting if the person passing by them were looking at them? What if they said hello to them?
More than twice as many people would greet the other if they were greeted verbally in comparison to just looking at them.
Specifically, participants were two times more likely to smile at the other person when they were looked at, smiled at and greeted than if the participant was on their phone.
In other words, according to these findings it is likely that while on our phones walking across campus we are missing half of the potential social interactions we could have.
If you are a woman this difference is even greater. Women had the smallest amount of greetings while walking across campus using a cell phone. Why, you ask? There are two strong possibilities.
First, females may be more dependent on their mobile devices. The other theory is that this could be due to the fact that women are more cautious than their male peers in settings with unfamiliar people and therefore want to disconnect themselves from the world around them.
If the latter is the case, and we as women are fearful of our surroundings, we should put our cell phone back in our pockets and become as aware as possible of our environment.
Are mobile devices ruining our lives? It is unlikely but it’s without doubt they are impacting our on-foot interactions or potential interactions with others; these effects are likely negative.
With that said, if we cut back on our cell phone usage in simple social settings, we would be engaging with the people around us more, potentially staying safer and who knows, maybe even rekindling that biology class romance.
Lindsay Parsons is a fourth-year student majoring in communication studies. She can be reached at LP828896@wcupa.edu.