Reading the news on a mobile device while waiting in line at a coffee shop may seem like you’re cutting yourself off from the people around you, but a new study from the University of Michigan suggests the opposite: The more people use their phones in public to stay up on news, the more likely they are to talk to strangers in those settings.
The study, which was featured in the current issue of the international journal Human Communication Research, also found that people using their cellphones to make plans are also likely to participate in public conversations.
"We expected to find that frequency of cellphone use in public would cause people to have fewer interactions with strangers in public, but reading the news on your smartphone gives people something relevant to talk about with others who are also occupying that space," said report co-author Scott Campbell. "Information about public affairs is more relevant to a stranger than what you did last weekend."
Campbell noted that using technology in these settings may boost the "salience of news" since it is fresh, motivating users to discuss it with others around them.
Meanwhile, heavy use of the technology for social purposes — such as calling friends — appears to detract from conversations with strangers in public, the report said.
"This may show how technology can also fuel a type of insularity, where one is wrapped up in their own personal affairs at the expense of engaging with others in the public sphere," Campbell said. "But this occurs when people use their mobile phones for social reasons in public, not to read the news."
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