Friendship and other relationships in the era of mobile phones


Do those of you, who are middle-aged or older like me, remember what it was like before the "smart" mobile phone arrived in the early 2000s? When you didn't have constant access to a pocket-sized computer; a gadget that now provides you with the latest news, makes it possible to easily buy tickets for the bus or cinema, book an appointment at the hairdresser’s, send work emails and participate in virtual job meetings.

When you didn't have that social media lifeline that helped you keep in touch, not just with family members and close friends, but with all sorts of acquaintances you’ve met once. And also with those you haven't yet met (including companies), but for some reason you want to keep track of them or be inspired by them. Remember that time when you didn't have immediate access to information, when you couldn't do your banking business and do a lot of other smart things exactly when you wanted to and while carrying out other tasks at the same time? Sometimes I wonder how we were able to manage before the "smart" variant of that gadget arrived, which was previously only used to make calls. At the same time, I think about what the mobile phone has done to us, and in particular: what has it done to our relationships with one another?

Today, we can both start, maintain, and end a relationship without even meeting. We connect with exciting new people through dating apps, or equivalent apps for like-minded people; we chat, sometimes through video with them, we send messages and break up. And even in relationships where we actually meet IRL now and then, the mobile with its software plays a significant role in maintaining contact when we cannot meet face to face. We communicate with each other, not just in text format, but with photos, and with small pre-drawn ideograms and emojis, which can be found in the phone's apps. But there can also be a great deal of misunderstanding. How should one interpret 🤗? Is it a hug? An expression of a general benevolent attitude? Is the sender lashing out with their hands while shrugging their shoulders and sneering at me?

In many ways it’s amazing that most of us have access to a supercomputer in our pocket. We can be efficient and, with the help of the mobile, maintain relationships with everyone we ever meet. New acquaintances are added to Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and LinkedIn. We save people's telephone numbers and can communicate with them via Facetime or WhatsApp (or via a phone call – which is actually still possible!). But is this really a "help"? Are we getting more friends through the digital technology that our mobile phones enable? Do our established relationships become closer thanks to all the possibilities that mobile phones offer? Or is there a risk that we prioritise ourselves to an increasing extent by spending more and more time on social media, rather than on spending real time with the people with whom we actually want and need to have a relationship – or/and who want and need to have a relationship with us?

Before the smart phone came along, you lost contact with people you no longer met regularly, at least with some kind of frequency. The relationships ended often seamlessly and intangibly with those from whom one grew apart and with people who moved or changed jobs. Today, our social apps are almost grotesque databases of social networks; networks that in digital format may seem extensive – but which risk becoming increasingly weaker over time if we do not interact with everyone who is part of them individually in some way. And the question is whether we even have the possibility to do that. There are still only 24 hours in one day, and even though we spend several hours per day on social media, which doesn't necessarily mean we stay connected with family and friends; a lot of time is spent browsing on YouTube, Pinterest, Familjeliv, Flashback, or on other websites, depending on our interests. So how is it possible to even stay connected with everyone who is part of our digital social network? And how do we distinguish between those who are our friends, and those who are acquaintances?

Anette Hallin