Image description: A header illustration showing a green speech bubble within a rectangular screen, a scramble of lines instead of text inside. The background is a textured, abstract pastel.
Image description: A header illustration showing a green speech bubble within a rectangular screen, a scramble of lines instead of text inside. The background is a textured, abstract pastel.

Illustration by Ahmed Bilal

Stop looking at your phone! (unless you’re reading this article, then go on)

We know that screen time is bad. But do you know that using your screens to avoid awkward social interactions specifically lowers your confidence and cripples your conversations? How can such a small device can influence your entire personality?

May 8, 2023

We have all been there, you have all been hyped about this party for days on end, everyone talked about it between classes, over text, constantly, and now that you are finally here and the initial rush of greetings has died… you are all on your phones. It always starts with that one person that is practically married to their phone. They whip it out, and that terminates the conversation they had been having, so their conversation partner whips one out. Watching them, two more people think, hey I haven’t checked my phone in a while, what if there’s something going down on twitter right now? And down we all go, into the world of our screens, sitting together on a table but mentally so so far away.
The Norwegian University of Science and Technology conducted a study on this phenomenon, and found three primary reasons people resort to taking out their phones in social situations — to interrupt a conversation they would like to get out of, to avoid a conversation altogether or because the other person has got to see what a mutual posted on their socials.
I get it, we all use our smartphones to shield ourselves in social situations all the time. At a party, the wallflower in the corner with a phone in their hand stays much longer than they would without it. Having the phone out is comfortable. It demonstrates that you are busy by yourself, that you are alone by choice and not because your friends ditched you. Sometimes, as in our birthday party earlier, taking out your phone is a response, asserting that hey, if you can start scrolling on your phone while I was in the middle of my story and ‘phub’ (phone snub) me, I can do it right back. Other times, it is to escape from a situation entirely: fake texts, fake emergency phone calls and “I’m so sorry but I really have to go!”s have saved so many of us from awkward dates and unexpected run-ins. A smartphone serves every purpose. It is convenient, it is portable, it is perfect.
I would, as a side note, like to point out that the third reason from the Norwegian study — sharing content — actually helps enhance social interactions instead of culling them. That is where the silver lining ends though, because smartphones are addictive, and come to think of it, when was the last time your friend got off the D2 lunch table to keep their tray away and you didn’t tap your phone even once? Isn’t that exactly what addiction is, seeking constant opportunity to use something, and feeling negative emotions of discomfort or awkwardness when you don’t? Filling in the smallest of gaps in our lives to check our constant stream of notifications has become such a habit, we do not even notice it. But we should.
Here’s how having a phone to hold and stare into to avoid social awkwardness makes your confidence even worse than it unfortunately already is : your posture. You have to slouch, curve your neck, bend your shoulders inwards. And you know when else we slouch? When we feel afraid, powerless, sad. This study proves it, participants who went through a mock job-interview slouched had much lower self-esteem and reported a much more negative experience than upright sitters. New Zealand physiotherapist Steve August calls it the iHunch, others say text neck, or even iPosture. Whatever you want to call it, it is bad for you and it is best to stop.
You may say well fine then, I’ll just check my phone without slouching. First of all, go ahead, you will soon find that holding your phone straight in front of you without bending your neck looks ridiculous and will make the awkward situation you are in even more unbearably awkward; now you are awkward and look so.
Secondly, it is not the posture that is the main problem, the phone is. Have a look at this Harvard Business school study that draws a clear relationship between the size of your device and how assertive you are. It seems far-fetched, but participants with phones took much longer to interrupt the experimenter, if they even did at all, than those that were assigned a laptop, a computer, or an iPad. The smaller your device, and the more frequently you rely on it, the meeker you are in social situations, and we do not want that.
We often preach about finding the right balance with technology, reaping its benefits while being wary of the costs. Knowing how exhausting hyperconnectivity is, why does the absence of our smartphone make us feel so terrible then? Ever felt that specific sort of distress when you are stuck in really close proximity to someone and you do not have your phone with you? I know you have. It is very much like smoking, actually, I wasn’t joking when I said we are addicted. Smokers use cigarettes as a means of avoidance just as others use smartphones, when they are waiting for someone, when they are doing something unengaging like commuting to work, when they are bored — simply to avoid the discomfort of existing with ourselves. Just because phones are a more socially acceptable method of avoidance, doesn’t make them any better.
So we feel bad if we check our phones, and we feel bad if we don’t, at least for a brief period. We have to pick between two uncomfortable situations. We share a love-hate relationship with our smartphones, and even though we can not get rid of them, we can manage them better.
Tiesta Dangwal is Deputy Features Editor. Email them at
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