Researcher Rich Ling says in his book New Tech, New Ties

« Mobile communication is being used in the pursuit of romance, in the coordination of families, in the exchanging of humor and gossip, and in many other daily situations. In each case, there are ritual forms, there is reliance on co-present understandings, and there is development—and sometimes erosion—of social cohesion. »  

At first sight, it is obvious, that a cell phone is designed to maintain social relationships at all times. By phoning or text messaging one’s peers, one is able to never feel alone. As we all know, for teenagers, cell phones are part and parcel of their newly-discovered private life, a space in which adults are not authorized without permission. This  fact of  modern like has profoundly modified the family cell and shaken the preconceived ideas that many parents may have had about about parenting and parental concerns!  Cell phones have reduced the importance of  the family during the socialization process. On the other hand, friends and social networks have been able to to benefit from that loss of power of the family. Unlike a few decades ago, a teenager can constantly be reached by his or her friend through his or her cell phone. From this, we can deduce two important consequences of cell phones on one’s social relationship. While cell phones enhance relationships with friends and relatives link, it can also have a rather destructive impact upon what was once called « the family« .

But this assumption needs to be nuanced in the sense that cell phones also change the original bounds of generations. A poll from 2007 shows that already 33% of the teenagers under 21 years-old were using their cell phones to contact their grand-parents. An action that they certainly would not have done without the help of technology. Furthermore, more and more elderly people tend to use cell phones and tablets. We are certainly not talking about the same way of using them as teenagers, and certainly not the same kinds of technologies, but still, those facts can alter the hasty judgements about cell phones developing individualization.


In order to understand more clearly what the effects on traditional social structures are, let’s look at the socialization of cell phones. In other words, how people are sensitized to cell phones during their social integration and during their social interactions. According to the social enterprise ConnectAD the average American spends 2.7 hours a day « socializing » on his/her mobile device. We naturally tend to think that those hours are only for personal and individual purpose. But once again, when we take a look at some of the data, those ideas turn out to be completely wrong: 19% of people between 18 and 29 years old appear to donate to charities at least once a year via text messages. Thus, even though cell phones incite people to get more self-centered physically speaking, the technology also enables the means of being generous and altruistic.

More generally speaking, is the physical presence obligatory for someone to be really influenced by someone else, and thus to be socialized? For both Durkheim and Goffman, two major sociologists of the 20th century, social cohesion takes place only in physically co-present situations. But when they wrote their theories, cell phones were not yet invented, and even if it is unfair to attempt to criticize either of them about any of their theories, we can safely assume than society has undergone major changes due to the presence of cell phones in everyone’s lives. Nobody can deny that physical presence is important if not essential to create a durable relationship. But more and more, as Ling points out, cell phones have also become essential part in our every day rituals. These rituals make up a substantial part of the culture, and cell phones have even managed to impose their own rituals. For Ling, these rituals have such  power that they are  a determining factor, providing a glue that holds social groups together. Although the use of cell phones has  indeed created a new kind of language it has not created new bonds as says Ling. Technological mediation has only served to reinforce social groups that already existed, because most of the communication enabled by cell phones is shared with close friends and family.

Interesting fact: those social groups (close friends and family) were not really physically torn apart a few decades ago. People did not tend to move from a city to another as we do now. So bonds stayed the same and physical communication was the only way to communicate. But the fact that 80% of the French population have their « baccalaureat » implies that at least 50% of them continue their studies. Most of them move away from the family home, and set up in another city. In that perspective, cell phones would only be a way of keeping in touch with those social cells that people don’t want to see disappear.  The physical need has first been replaced by the voice, and now  more and more, the other senses are taken into account, so the physical presence can be replaced fully: Skype is a perfect example of the evolution of the communication technologies. The question is, how long will it be before we can virtually touch our friends and loved ones at a distance and what effect will that have on our social structures?


3 Responses to The cell phone’s paradoxical effects on social relationships

  1. Adriana Coelles dit :

    I definitely agree that we should all be concerned on how mobiles are affecting our interpersonal relationships especially how unwanted conversations are avoided. For example, we check the number who’s calling before answering. With mobiles we are able to decide with whom we want to interact with.

    But we should not leave aside or pay less attention on how mobiles technologies are also influencing the way of reading, speaking, listening and especially writing (abbreviations, poor punctuation, bad grammar) with deeper impact on teenagers and young adults.

    For those who don’t want to be left behind or do not understand the texting language there is always to do the job for you. This page can translate text messages, emoticons, acronyms, etc into the english language and the other way around, how fun is that?

    • Martyna MODZELEWSKA dit :

      As it was said in this article we have to be aware of both ‘sides’ of using phone and new technology.

      I am inseparable from my phone and my computer. Truth is that I am calling my grandmother, who lives in different country, on skype and on a fixed phone. These are really comfortable and time saving tools. But in fact I have not seen my grandmother for four years. I have a feeling that it is fine because I am talking with her almost every week, but sometimes I am wondering if I really know her?

      Is it possible to really know someone and to be close with someone using just phone and computer? I think people need another people in real. That’s why it is very important to find balance between two ways of communicating.

  2. Oguzcan AKDEMIR dit :

    Cell phones are invented to answer the communication needs of the people by providing accessibility in any where and any time. As you mention in the article, it is very beneficial to enhance social relationships. People can share what they want immediately via cell phones. Obviously, this makes all types of relationships closer.

    You also mention that cell phones affect family relationships negatively. I do not agree with that. For example, I continue my education far from my family. With the help of cell phones and cell phone applications I can speak and even see my family members. Namely, mobile phones cancel the distance between people. In my opinion, absence of mobile phones may influence family and other social relationships negatively.

    Cell phones do not influence presence in communication and face-to-face connection. It is choice of people whether socializing with their cell phones or face-to-face. Namely, we can not say that mobile phones change way of communication. It just provide new ways to make social relationships.

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