Are phones ruining our friendships?

It is a very modern (albeit very common) conundrum.

You are sitting at a cafe chatting with a girlfriend, when she glances at her phone. Seeing it flash, she picks it up and begins to type a response, all the while pitching into your story with the occasional half-hearted, ‘uh huh’, ‘mmm hmm’, and ‘no way!’

She’s not listening. What do you do?

The feeling of playing second fiddle to a smartphone is an emerging anxiety in many modern relationships; romantic, friendship, family, work or otherwise.

Watch a bride check her phone during her wedding ceremony (post continues after video).

Video via Simbaguardaluna

Scolding someone to ‘get off their phone’ in the middle of a social event is a daily occurrence. We are all guilty of it, and yet we are all bothered by it, too. An unhealthy cycle has emerged, and the ripple effects of the ‘connected’ smartphone age are starting to be felt in the disconnection of our real-life human friendships, too.

The very first iPhone was released in June of 2007, and we have barely taken our eyes off the screen in the 8 years since.

Our dabbling in online socialising – MSN, anyone? – burst into a full blown obsession, with Facebook and Instagram becoming within reach at all times. The most popular iPhone app is Facebook, and with 700 million people now on an iPhone, that’s fair to say a vast number of the world’s population are trading into good old fashioned coffee dates for a quick chat online instead.

Don’t shoot me, but I really, REALLY miss those hour long chats on the landline, twiddling the cord and having a glass of wine.

In what has been dubbed ‘the digital divide’, pychologists and sociologists are beginning to notice major behavioural trends emerging as a result of the smartphone revolution. Among shortened attention spans, poor communication skills, lack of original thought, and increased self-obsession (one word: selfies), one of the biggest casualties of smart phones has been our friendships.

The hallowed territory that existed between friends is now being slowly chiselled away by the incessant siren’s song of new connections online. The very framework of friendship – deep and meaningful conversations, ritual Thursday night dinners, and Saturday night secrets – are now interrupted, if not completely replaced, by quick hits of online love in the form of likes or comments.

In what has been dubbed ‘the digital divide’, pychologists and sociologists are beginning to notice major behavioural trends emerging as a result of the smartphone revolution. (Image via iStock)

This erosion of friendship comes straight down to the overshare, according to Psychologies magazine:

“Oxford University neuroscientist Susan Greenfeld acknowledges the benefits of living a more connected life than previous generations did, but says, ‘it sucks away interaction with, and experience of, your feelings about the real world,’ weakening friendships, as things you would previously have kept between your close friends are shared among a wider network of online acquaintances.”

As the ham generation stuck in the Old World meets New World sandwich, all of us who remember life pre-2007 are grappling with some serious nostalgia. We remember what friendship should represent – connection, reliability, communication – and then struggle to align that with what it realistically has become in 2015: distant, digital, disconnected.

mother-and-son- social using-a-smart-phone
We remember what friendship should represent – connection, reliability, communication. (Image via iStock)

Psychotherapist Nathan Fieles works in New York, and sees this issue crop up over and again.

“In my work as a therapist, a common theme is people’s desire to repeat the lives they were raised with.

For people over roughly age 28, when they think back to their childhoods and pick out the parts they want to repeat as adults, the images that stick out don’t involve computers or cell phones. There was less to be distracted by and more focus on the present.

… But most want one more thing: Connection. Not via a cell phone or Internet, but emotional connection with families, friends, partners, spouses, and children.” –

In short, we miss old-fashioned friendship.



The solution seems to lie in some old fashioned elbow grease. Putting in the hard yards as a true-blue mate. Making yourself uncomfortable by stashing your phone far from sight when you are with a friend. Opting not to send a text message to cancel a dinner date, but actually calling to apologise. Putting your phone on silent at a dinner party, and not requesting a ‘cute selfie’ the minute you sit down to cocktails.

We managed to wrestle down the monster that was TV – remember when that was the only screen that used to consume our lives? – so there is no reason why we can’t manage our phones, too.

For nothing else, let’s try for the generation of Snapchat-happy teens that have but a vague grasp on the spoken word. Or, moreover, the babies with deft grasps of their own iPads, whose eyes are getting squarer by the minute…

Old fashioned friendship. Let’s do it, starting with a hug, kiss on the cheek, and a real response: yes, your bum does look big in that, sister.