New Furbies (!) and an excellent paper about mobile phones and intimacy

I am at TAPRA today preparing to give my talk about technology and intimacy. I’m also trying to decide which color of the new Furbies I should buy… Check out the video of it being demonstrated from endgadget:

It looks pretty amazing/demonic. I’m sure Sherry Turkle will be buying a few dozen to unleash on children to see what they make of them. I’m certainly interested to read what she finds out if she does!

I’m thinking I might get the purple one. Anyone have an opinion?

I also came across this interesting paper about cell phones and intimacy yesterday. Here is the abstract from Sage Publications for anyone who doesn’t have access to the full paper online:

Recent advancements in communication technology have enabled billions of people to connect over great distances using mobile phones, yet little is known about how the frequent presence of these devices in social settings influences face-to-face interactions. In two experiments, we evaluated the extent to which the mere presence of mobile communication devices shape relationship quality in dyadic settings. In both, we found evidence they can have negative effects on closeness, connection, and conversation quality. These results demonstrate that the presence of mobile phones can interfere with human relationships, an effect that is most clear when individuals are discussing personally meaningful topics.
Przbylski and Weinstein, 2012: 1

If it had only come onto my radar a bit earlier I might have cited it in my paper today. I think I’ll find a way to work it into the paper before I send it out for publication. It is pretty good at providing some basic scientific basis for some of the things many of us already know instinctively – mobile/cell phones act as a reminder of an outside world and of other concerns when they are visually present in intimate situations. The authors of the paper created two experiments to test their theory:

Experiment 1 found that dyadic partners who got to know one another in the presence of a mobile phone (via sharing a moderately meaningful discussion) felt less close with their partners and reported a lower quality of relationships than did partners who shared a conversation without a mobile phone present. Experiment 2 explored which relational contexts mobile phones most mattered by manipulating the content of discussion to be either casual or meaningful.
Przbylski and Weinstein, 2012: 5

They go on to say that:

These results demonstrated that the mere presence of mobile communication technology might interfere with human relationship formation, lending some empirical support to concerns voiced by theorists (Turkle, 2011). Evidence derived from both experiments indicates the mere presence of mobile phones inhibited the development of interpersonal closeness and trust, and reduced the extent to which individuals felt empathy and understanding from their partners. Results from the second experiment indicated that these effects were most pronounced if individuals were discussing a personally meaningful topic. More specifically, results of this experiment showed that meaningful conversation topics tended to encourage intimacy and trust under neutral conditions. This difference between those in the casual and meaningful conversation conditions was absent in the presence of a mobile phone, which appeared to interfere in conditions that were otherwise conducive to intimacy. More interesting, the debriefing procedure suggests that these effects might happen outside of conscious awareness.
Przbylski and Weinstein, 2012: 8

I highly recommend reading the full paper if this is an area of interest to you. It provides some much needed, rigorous scientific validation to a number of the theories that Turkle has espoused (and that I use in my own writing).


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