There can be no doubt that smartphones have radically changed the ways we interact with one another.
Even more so than the old feature phones like the classic Nokia 3310, the smartphone has had a noticeable impact on people’s lives since they were popularised with the launch of the first iPhone back in 2007.
Mobiles in general made socialising more flexible. Before them, if you were going to be late to meet someone, the chances were you’d just miss them. Now, we can just let the other party know and keep disruptions to a minimum.
Smartphones added to this considerably, as they introduced the conveniences of social networks like Facebook and Twitter and video calling on Skype, making these things available at our fingertips all the time. This increases the communication options open to us – to say nothing of the advantages of having tools like Google Maps and taxi-hailing apps to hand.
Together, these trends could combine to mean we don’t necessarily have to be physically with our friends and family members to feel we’re in touch. A study from market research institute GfK found that 23 per cent of us agree that virtual interactions with others are just as good as being there in person. Only 15 per cent of respondents completely disagreed with the statement.
More than 27,000 internet users over the age of 15 and from 22 different countries were quizzed to gather this data. It was found that younger generations are more likely to feel that virtual interactions can be as good as real life. A total of 28 per cent and 27 per cent of those aged 20 to 29 and 30 to 39 respectively agreed with the sentiment. This was comfortably ahead of teenagers, who were the next most ‘virtually minded’ demographic at 22 per cent.
Brazil and Turkey were found to be the most ‘virtually minded’, while Germany and Sweden were the least. A third of the population of Brazil and Turkey believe virtual interactions can be as good as being there, followed by Mexico (28 per cent), China (27 per cent) and Russia (24 per cent).
Perhaps unsurprisingly, agreement tailed off considerably with older people. Only 20 per cent of those in their 50s agreed with the question, falling to 11 per cent of those in their 60s. Almost a third of the latter group (27 per cent) disagreed completely.
Respondents in several central European countries were among the least likely to feel as satisfied with virtual interactions as meeting someone face-to-face. A third (32 per cent) of online consumers in Germany did not feel the two are comparable, making the population the most unsatisfied the two kinds of engagement are as good. This was followed by Sweden with 29 per cent, Belgium and the Czech Republic tied in third with 26 per cent and the Netherlands fourth with 23 per cent.
As diverse as the findings are, they could be seen to indicate that definitive views such as the argument that we are becoming more isolated from one another as a result of smartphone use are overly simplistic. With the devices being used to communicate with other people in a wide range of ways, they are clearly making a difference to how people think of social interaction.