Do Mobile Phones Improve Relationships?

The Growing Use of Mobile Phones

Today mobile phones are more and more an essential item that we carry with us everywhere. In many ways these facilitate our relationships by making us able to contact those who we would not otherwise be able to for conversations or to arrange meetings. At the same time however such technology can be enslaving and can lead to a lack of human contact or the development of dependency. So do mobile phones really improve our relationships, or do they damage them?

In Britain there are more mobile phones in use than there are people (Sheffield and Bolton, 2006). Mobile phones affect human identity and social interaction, and play a part in areas such as propositions, courtship and ending relationships (Srivastava, 2005). This article investigates whether mobile phones improve our personal relationships by looking at the current state of phone use in the student population, the link between phone use and the number of (and satisfaction with) social contacts a person has for support, and whether there is a relationship between perceived quality of social support and the extent to which students use their mobile phones.

Else and Turkle (2006) looked at the state of mobile phone use and believe they are used too much. They believe that as technology has gotten to the point where thoughts and feelings are shared instantaneously through phones and other technology sources mean a person is never truly alone, leading to dependency on other people. Geiser (2002) cited in Srivastava (2006) observed couples at restaurant tables and found many occasions where one partner was taking a call while the other was texting or looking away. This perhaps shows that relationships on phones are prioritised at the expense of relationships with people in the surrounding area. Srivastava (2006) found that people prefer to text, as it does not disturb situations like lessons and meetings, and allows a person to talk to a third party whilst having a conversation face to face.

Wei and Lo (2006) found that mobile phone use was important in social relationships. By asking Taiwese students to state how often they send and receive calls to certain groups such as family and friends, they found mobile phone use strengthened the users’ family bonds, therefore improving social support, and expanded their psychological neighbourhoods. The main reason a call was made to or received from a family member was to show affection, an example of mobile phones enhancing the quality of social support. There may be a lack in quality of calls made by lonely and shy people, as the frequency and length of calls was found by Wei and Lo (2006) to be negatively related to social orientated use. Their calls tended not to be for affection or need of access to someone but as a fashion item or to improve their status to onlookers.

A Study…

The aim of the study was to find out whether mobile phones improve personal relationships. Cluster sampling was used to gather 153 students to participate in an online questionnaire that measured the state of mobile phone use in the student population, phone use and the number of (and satisfaction with) social contacts a person has for support, and the relationship between perceived quality of social support and the extent to which students use their phones.

This study was important as it does not just test the way phones are used and how often but it relates to the quality and amount of social support the person has, which is real life issue. Participants were asked to go to a designated web page and fill in a questionnaire.

Based on Srivastava’s (2006) views on the ease of texting, the hypothesis for the state of phone use in the student population is that more texts will be sent and received than calls. The hypothesis for the number of social contacts a person has and the quality of support received, is that there will be no relationship between phone use, the number of social contacts a person has, and their satisfaction with the quality of support they receive. This is based on Wei and Lo (2006) showing the superficial nature of lonely and shy people’s call habits where they spend a lot of time on the phone but not because of affection, whereas people who have less contacts may be getting better support from those people. For the same reason, there will be no link between the amount the mobile phone is used and the perceived quality of the social support received is the hypothesis for the third part of the question.

The study found an interaction between calls and texting, where people send and receive more texts than they make and receive calls. There was no significant difference in the direction of the calls and texts. This means that the hypothesis that more texts would be sent and received than calls was accepted. There was also a significant difference in communication type. The amount of calls made and received per day was lower than the amount of and texts sent and received.


To investigate whether mobile phones improve personal relationships within the student population, first the state of phone use had to be investigated. The amount of use per day, whether texts or calls were used more, and the direction of text or call were analysed. The study found that more texts were sent and received each day than calls were made and received. There was not a big difference in whether the direction of the call or the text was incoming or outgoing.

The state of mobile phone use was then compared to the number of social support contacts, and the satisfaction of support from these contacts. The main findings here were that the higher number of social contacts a person had, the more satisfied they were with their social support. To link back into mobile phone use, both the number of social contacts a person had and the satisfaction they felt with the social support they had increased when the person received more calls and texts and sent more texts. The amount of calls made did not affect this, possibly because sending a text is cheaper than making a call.

The perceived quality of social support and the extent to which students use their mobile phones was compared next. To get a better overall picture of phone use, the sub groups of texts and calls was replaced with overall outgoing and overall incoming. Neither influenced the perceived quality of social support, meaning the extent of phone use is unimportant.

Linking all three parts of the study together the conclusion has been reached that mobile phones do improve the maintenance of personal relationships within the student population, but only if the person has enough contacts. The extent of the phone us was irrelevant but the students felt more social support if they had more contacts. The number of contacts also impacted positively on the number of calls and texts received and texts sent.

It seems then that just as guns don’t kill people (people kill people), mobile phones neither ruin nor improve relationships on their own – this is achieved just fine by the people on either end.

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Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki is a full time writer who spends most of his time in the coffee shops of London. Adam has a BSc in psychology and is an amateur bodybuilder with a couple of competition wins to his name. His other interests are self improvement, general health, transhumanism and brain training. As well as writing for websites and magazines, he also runs his own sites and has published several books and apps on these topics.

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