Mobile vs. Social

This article is also available in Czech, Ukrainian and German.

Reading the heading, you’re probably thinking: “It’s a typo, it should be ‘Mobile and Social'”. But no. What I wanted to talk about is the behavior, the phenomenon, if you will, of the complete dependency people seem to have developed for their mobile phones, and how it affects their social behavior.

Here’s my theory: with smartphones and constant connections to the Internet, people have developed an addiction to being online, digitally stay in touch and up-to-date. And it really starts to affect our social behavior negatively. Mobile vs. Social.

Think about the children

Start with an experiment in your everyday life: go to a kids’ playground. Look at the parents that are there with their children, “playing”. Which essentially means a majority of them are looking at their mobile phones, surfing the net, checking Facebook. The kids are playing on their own, or perhaps with some other child.

At times, they try to get their parent’s attention, and if they’re really lucky, they’ll get a humming back, or even a nod! All while the parent’s eyes aren’t leaving the mobile screen, of course.

I’ve been standing in playgrounds recently, trying to take in and analyze parent’s behaviors and patterns (and not in in a creepy stalker kind of way – just genuine curiosity). And this is how it mostly goes down. Overall this has been in Sweden, but I don’t think this is just a local occurrence, but rather, in general, the spoiled Western world approach with gadgets and connectivity.

When children are asked about their parents’ behavior and what annoys them most, some of the most recurring answers are:

They’re just looking at their phone

With that, I’m concerned with what message we’re sending to children; ours and others. The ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ approach has never worked before, and it’s not gonna work here either. Children needs to feel that they are being seen, and I’m pretty confident that this ignoring behavior will start to influence how they act with others as well.

How to behave with other people

But let’s say you don’t have children, don’t want them etc. This way of acting isn’t reserved for parents being with their children, it happens just as much between adults. Just look at parties, lunches or any other grown-up interaction scene you can think of. People talk for a while, and then they just can’t help themselves looking at their phones. Just for a second. Just needing that latest ‘fix’.

And it doesn’t matter if they’re with people they know very well or not, or if they’re bored by the situation (even if I do expect that to excel the behavior). Look at couples going out to dinner, exchanging a few pleasant words, eating and then diving into their phones.

Just look around at any event you go to, restaurant etc. How do people act, and how many keep on looking at their phones? And within families, how common isn’t it that, when tired, laying on their sofa, endlessly scrolling with their thumb or index finger?

I’ve done it too

I’m not trying to be perfect. And God knows, I’ve wanted to check my phone for just a moment. Sometimes, even though the company is lovely, I have to read that last tweet, seeing if my Facebook status got any likes (because that’s all that matters), if anyone disagrees with me on the Internet!

Or, when I’ve been bored at parties, snuck away into the toilet to pee (almost forcefully) just to get a minute or two to look on the phone: what are my friends doing, what’s happening, am I really liked?

But I really dislike this part of me, this addiction, dependability on a device. I can be better. I want to be better.

Blaming Facebook, Twitter etc

I’m certain this behavior is bad for us ourselves as well as for our ability to interact with each other. And people are usually quick to blame social media, like Facebook, Twitter etc. ‘Without these services, it wouldn’t happen!’. You know, crap arguments like that.

Don’t blame a service, or a potential way of doing things. You take responsibility for your actions and choices, and it’s up to you whether you want to update your status, check retweets etc.

I do like mobile phones

Listen, I love the Internet! I love mobile phones! The possibility to just look something up, to stay in touch with dear ones no matter where I am, to not trying to hunt down coins at 2 in the morning to make a call from the phone booth, is amazing!

And for children, learning from tablets (you know which i-word I typed there first…) and from the Internet is a fantastic resource, and a great complement to existing methods.

Start living!

But that’s what I’m getting at here: it’s a complement to our lives, not something that should own or dictate us.

So please, continue to use your mobile phones, do it when it’s really worth it, when it’s respectful to those around you and when it makes sense.

But, also, please don’t miss out on living, on being social, on interacting with other individuals. Because that’s the cornerstone of our society, and something I’d be very sad to see us lose.


  • David says:

    Great article, thanks! I’m sharing your view and are often worried about this topic. I have heard and read some good opinions about this topic.
    This Ted speech: Sherry Turkle: Connected, but alone?
    And there was an good article about researching the connection about using social media and the production of dopamin, but i can’t find the article right now.

  • Andreas says:

    Couldn’t agree more. Apart from not being very social I also think that this behavior leads to more stress. Many people seem to be unable to relax and not do anything for a while. As soon as they get a few minutes break and nothing to do they reach for their phone.

  • But they are mobile *and* social! After all, they are checking *social* networks, right?

    Just kidding, I fully agree with you.

    Often enough, I’ve been sitting in my favorite bar and some people I probably would have talked to otherwise were completely entrenched in checking Facebook on their phone.

    Suddenly, the “Get a life!” stance that Bill Shatner threw at those Star Trek fans that e.g. dress up in uniforms and play out things from this fiction together, it seems misplaced, as those people seem more real-life-like and social than those sitting around by themselves and being lost in the world they see on their phones…

  • So true, and also so sad. I’ve myself stopped taking calls while I’m out with my dog. It breaks my relation with the dog, and she knows it! Same feeling of ignorance and “being left out” with a dog, as it is with fellow humans and kids.

    Touching on Christian Heilmanns latest manifesto for trainings, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was brought up at the next Geek Meet. Be in the present and don’t get lost in social updates while the presenter talks – unless it is direct questions for the talk via Twitter.

    My 2 cent.

  • I understand your point of view, but the example you chose is really not new. People have been neglecting to take an interest in their children for hundreds of years. The cellphone has probably changed the behavior, but I’d wager the change is there are less bored parents drinking today, rather than more children being neglected than before.

  • Robert Nyman says:


    Thanks, and appreciate the shared Ted talk!


    Most definitely. I didn’t emphasize it well enough in the article, but I’m certain people stress out way too much about it.


    Good point about Star Trek! I think we just need to talk more with each other, to show that respect.


    Yes, I agree, and I completely understand what you’re talking about! Tech events definitely fall into this category, although it’s really tricky to know what people are talking about.


    The children thing was just one example, though. And I agree it’s better than the parents drinking. 🙂

    But still, ignoring is still ignoring, whether it’s from a super fit absolutist parent or a drunk.

    Additionally, I think this seems to be more of a Western world/wealth problem. If you go to poor places, people don’t check their phones AND they don’t drink. They just live and do things together, and are happy.

  • Can’t agree more.

    Alcohol and tobacco were the socially accepted drugs of last centuries. Hope social media won’t become the socially accepted drug of your time =(

    I’ve been trying hard to avoid using the phone outside, when hanging out with people, and I’m clean for several weeks now. It’s hard, but it’s doable. The trick in my case was limiting my phone to use 2G only: more battery, less speedy, and less impulse to check anything, as it’s too slow and will help be afterwards (I’ll still have battery for other stuff later). Now I have to get on control when I’m at home or visiting relatives and friends with Wi-Fi: can’t control their network speed to use that same trick. Searching for new tricks 🙂

    But I don’t think I can agree with your comment’s last point: poor people may not show this issue in public, as they may not have good phones or connections, but it happens at home, where there’s at least a good enough network connection and a computer. They’ll be absorbed at home, or maybe want to leave earlier, just to be able to be connected again. The same bad behavior you see at the streets they’ll have at home. I’ve seen (and done it) too many times too.

  • Robert Nyman says:


    Thanks! Glad you liked it, and good to hear that you’re “clean”. 🙂

    I think tricks like staying on 3G, turning off mail sync, notifications etc helps and are good advice, but at the same time, it’s mostly about treating the symptoms, not the cause.

    It can be a good way to get started, but in the long run, I hope people will make the conscious choice to avoid it at times, not just because it becomes more problematic technically.

    My comment wasn’t really clear with regards to poor people. My reference/rebuttal was more talking about poor people in the sense that they don’t even have phones, and that they generally don’t drink or have any other vices as well, that makes them ignore their children or other loved ones.

    I think we can be too spoiled with devices, connectivity etc so we’re missing the world around us.

  • […] that’s the cornerstone of our society, and something I’d be very sad to see us lose.This article by Robert Nyman originally appeared on Robert’s Talk and is republished with […]

  • Oh, got your point! 🙂

    > It can be a good way to get started, but in the long run, I hope people will make the conscious choice to avoid it at times, not just because it becomes more problematic technically.

    Yeah, you’re absolutely right. My point in using these “tricks” (and I shouldn’t have called them tricks, but I still don’t know a better word to use; sorry for my poor English) is to cut habit triggers. Some habitual action always start with triggers, and if you cut them off, the habit will slowly happen with less and less frequency, till it stops. You didn’t lose it, you just made it stop happening by cutting the triggers off. Even if you make a conscious choice, habits make you do that, because it’s you unconscious that works it out. So you need both to stop it.

    Don’t know if I may it clear. Hope I did, but I’m willing to go on on this to make it clearer 🙂

  • oh crap.

    s/Don’t know if I may it clear./Don’t know if I made it clear.

    s/ it’s you unconscious that works it out/ it’s your unconscious that works it out

    And maybe there are more. That’s one of the “why”s one should always read what they right online before posting =P

  • Robert Nyman says:


    Glad you understood!
    And yes, I do agree on triggers, and small tricks (for me, that word works great!) might deal with that.

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