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How Often Do We Use Technology to Avoid People?

Pretty often, sadly.

Type of Observation: Participation Observation

Hypothesis: People will turn to their cellphones or laptops in situations they find awkward or uncomfortable.

Findings: During the five hour participant observation, I sat at one of the tables in Linda’s dining hall with my laptop and textbooks, as well as a salad. I began sitting at the table at one PM, which is part of the peak lunch hours. I decided to stay for such a long time to see if people were more likely to use their phone or laptop as a scapegoat when there were more people around them who could see their discomfort (fear of judgement) or if they would be just as likely to turn to technology when there were less people around them simply because they were acting only on their own discomfort.

I noticed that while there was a slight difference in how likely people were to turn to their phone or laptop to avoid discomfort, it was higher when there were larger crowds around them. The data I collected form my observations did not give enough evidence to prove that people would only do this to avoid judgement from other (perhaps of appearing to be a social outcast). However, I did prove my hypothesis to be correct. I noticed that any time a new person approached a pair sitting down eating that did not know both people, the person who did not know the new person who approached them reached for their phone and started to scroll through it, and once the new person left, they put their phone down and continued their previous conversation with the person they were sitting with. I saw this happen multiple times per hour. In particular, I observed two girls, one wearing a shirt with her sorority letters and the other in some sort of Sacred Heart sports team apparel. They were at Linda’s for quite some time, sitting in a booth with food and with laptops and textbooks out on the table as well. Early on into the girls sitting at the booth, a different girl approached the table, wearing a shirt with letters on it from the same sorority as one of the girls sitting down. She began talking to her sorority sister, and although she did say hi to the girl in sports apparel, she quickly dismissed her presence to speak to her sorority sister. The girl in sports apparel almost instantly pulled her phone out of her bag and started using it, then began switching her focus from her phone to her laptop, trying to look like she was focusing on something else. About thirty minutes later, the exact same situation happened but reverse girls. The girl in sports apparel had a teammate who approached the table, but she actually sat down and spoke with her teammate for quite some time, about fifteen minutes, and the sorority girl did not take her eyes off of her phone once.

Data Collection: Data was collected on a college campus and from college students.

Theoretical Framework: Our social behavior is effected by our own discomfort. This is a very simple concept to understand. If someone is in a situation which makes them uncomfortable, their social behavior will change. They may talk less, talk more, shift their body language, or in the case of this study, divert their attention elsewhere. Because technology has become so extremely integrated into our everyday lives, it makes for the perfect distraction. Anyone can reach in their purse or pocket, take out their cellphone/tablet/laptop and completely block out the environment around them. This is a rising issue in younger generations, being that technology has already had a negative impact on our socialization, and continues to be a crutch in times of discomfort.

Literature Review: Based on my hypothesis, I searched for articles which showcase research similar to mine, which prove that people will use their cellphones/ laptops as a way out of an awkward or uncomfortable situation. Through extensive research, the studies I found used my hypothesis as part of a larger study. They focused on the correlation of cell phone use and its connection to social anxiety and loneliness. One study focused part of their hypothesis on “contrasting beliefs concerning the social functionality of the short message service (or SMS, better known as a text message). This particular study proves that “anxious participants preferred to text,” which relates to my hypothesis because anxiety causes discomfort, which can be said to bring about awkward or uncomfortable feelings, which may lead a person to turn to their cellphone or laptop as a distraction or way to avoid the situation they find themselves placed in.

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