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Weighing up the positive and harmful impacts of our rectangular companions

This blog is part of our short stories in which we explore the relationship students have with their mobile phones be it positive or negative, the impact mobile phones have on students lives, and finally how best to strike a balance. Read first and second blog. 

Since the first mobile phone call in 1973, few technologies have become such an intrinsic part of our day to day lives than the mobile phone. In the previous article we canvassed opinion from a number of Utrecht based students about their relationship with their mobile. Through a combination of research papers and surveys we will now seek to highlight the major positive impacts cell phones have on students lives, as well as underlying where the impact is more harmful.

As our cup is half full at StuComm, we start by addressing the positive benefits of mobile phone usage:

At the click of a button, students can arrange to meet a friend at a coffee shop they’ve not been to, speak to a guardian halfway across the globe, or organise a group project with 10 other students.

53% of smartphone users have used their phone in an emergency. Our ability to call for help, and seek support is hugely boosted by our devices.


On the flip side, there is growing evidence to suggest that mobile phones cause more harm than good.

Such is the breadth of possibilities of our mobile handsets and there never ending supply of time wasting capabilities, addiction has become an unfortunate byproduct of the mobile phone era. Such distractions lead to obvious breakdowns in a young person’s social and academic growth (Ravidchandran, 2009). Some 75% of US college students now deem themselves to be procrastinators (The Guardian, 2016).

Breakdown of relationships
“Ironically, the very technology that was designed to bring humans closer together has isolated us from these very same people” (Baylor University, 2017). In a study completed at the University of Essex, students were divided into two groups and asked to converse for ten minutes. Half had their phone with them; the other half had no phone present. The participants were then tested for affinity, trust, and empathy. The mere presence of a phone “inhibited the development of interpersonal closeness and trust” reducing “the extent to which individuals felt empathy and understanding from their partners.” (Elmore, 2017). University had previously been a time when the most important friendships were formed in a young person’s life – integral to both their personal and future professional lives (Baylor University, 2017). This is often not the case as too many are retreating into a virtual world.

Mental health issues
Addiction and isolation have naturally lead to a deterioration of many young people’s mental states. Anxiety, depression, sleeping disorders, and stress are increasingly commonplace. Balanced routines are on their way out, with 24/7 connectivity to our devices becoming the norm (Immmr, 2017).


Much like other aspects of our lives, moderation and balance is needed in order to improve our relationship with our mobile phones. This is achieved more naturally for some than for others. To limit the effects, individuals, parents, universities, and technology partners such as StuComm all have a role to play.

For individual and parents, researchers have advised “smartphone-free” zones and times, establishing social contracts (and penalties) regarding phone use with friends, family and coworkers and downloading apps that track, monitor and control smartphone use (Baylor University, 2017). In the next article we will address our suggestions for the role played by universities and companies such as StuComm.

Without addressing the impact of addiction, the breakdown of relationships and mental health issues, we negate the many benefits this transformative device can bring. As Dr. Arian Ward adeptly put, “we have content without context” (Elmore, 2017)

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