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Airdate: Mar 28, 2016
Scientist: Shalini Misra

Smartphones - At What Price

Smartphones - At What Price
Does the mere presence of a smartphone effect the quality of face-to-face conversations?

Smartphones - What Price?

Throughout history, new technologies have altered our lives in unexpected ways. Smartphones are no exception. I'm Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet.

Misra: The watch, the printing press, radio, television these are all examples of intellectual technologies.

Shalini Misra is an assistant professor of Public and International Affairs at Virginia Tech.

Misra: What is unique about smartphones is that they subsume all of these other technologies. They are the map. They are the radio. They are the watch. They are a laptop.

But does the availability of all those tools come with a price?

Misra:My research was interested in the way that the mere presence of these technologies what effect does that have on the nature or the quality of face-to-face conversations? So, we asked people to have ten minute conversations on any casual topic. We did not say that this was about cellphones, and we observed whether either of these participants placed a cellphone on the table or held it in their hand during the course of this conversation. And what we found very surprisingly, was that just the presence of a networked technology, like a smartphone, has the potential to reduce the quality of the in-person interaction that these two participants had together. And we wondered why that was.
How can it be that simply the presence of a technology can have this kind of an effect on the level of empathy that was exchanged between the conversation partners and the quality of their conversation? And the theory that we came up with was that these technologies are not just tools. They are symbols of one's social relationships.

So apparently even the presence of a smart phone can profoundly change the dynamics of a social or business interaction. We'll hear more in our next program. I'm Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet. You can hear this and previous programs on our podcast.