Over the last 40 years, the cellphone has become one of the most utilized electronics we own. Released to the public in 1983, the cellphone started out simply as a phone capable of making calls to other phones without the restrictions of a phone cord.

Video produced by Nick De Lima.

Today, the cellphone is used for almost everything. A user can stream movies, play games, manage our day with productivity tools, research information on everything, from finding a cheap meal to diagnosing medical problems.

In fact, according to Mobile Statistics, the average person uses their cellphone 90 minutes a day.

This prolific habit has raised concerns about dependency. In fact, several studies examine correlations between excessive cellphone usage and physical and psychological problems. One of them appears in the Delhi Psychiatry Journal and confirms the existence of cellphone addiction and the complex problems with treating its various symptoms.

Assistant professor of psychology at Mount Royal University Malinda Desjarlais doesn’t dispute the negative consequences of excessive cellphone use. However, she points to evidence that suggests cellphones can have positive effects as well:

“Cellphones actually help keep people connected,” says Desjarlais. “They allow people to be involved with their friends, even when their friends are not present.”

A 2006 study that appeared in the peer-reviewed journal, New Media & Society, concluded cellphone use played a role in strengthening family bonds and social relationships.

“There seems to be a lot more positive going on with the phone than there is negative,” says Desjarlais. “Until it becomes really problematic in your life, […] then it’s not necessarily considered to be an addiction.”

PARENTS WORRY ABOUT WHEN TO INTRODUCE SMARTPHONES

Many parents are cautious about when to bring cellphones into their children’s lives. Amy Chagnon, mother of six-year-old Jacob, says she’s worried about how overly connected her son is to his technology:

“He already plays on his iPad too much,” says Chagnon. “I don’t like the idea of giving him more electronics. Once the iPad breaks, we are not getting another one.”

According to Chagnon, Jacob plays on his iPad for approximately four hours a day — an hour when he wakes up, an hour when he gets home from school and two hours in the evening.

The idea of giving her son a cellphone doesn’t sit well. Chagnon says her own cellphone habits make her worry about him even more: “I feel like I’m addicted to my phone, and I believe I’d pass that on to Jacob.”

But Chagnon does recognize the need for a cellphone: “I will have to get him one eventually,” she says and adds: “I like the idea of being able to contact him whenever I need to, or he can contact me whenever he wants.”

Chagnon says she is going to wait until Jacob is 10 or 11 to give him a cell phone. “When he is old enough to be left alone, I think is a good age to get a cell. At that point it’s just for safety reasons.”

Safety is pushing many parents to get a cellphone for their children. According to a research study published by MediaSmarts, a Canadian non-profit agency trying to help the digital community become a safer place, shows that nearly one in four fourth-graders have their own phones.

“We will have to get Jacob a phone because we don’t have a landline,” says Chagnon. “When he is home by himself and needs us in an emergency, he has to be able to contact us.”

According to technology website engadget.com, more households use cellphones as a primary method of contact over a landline.

SOME CALGARIANS PREFER FACE-TO-FACE OVER ONLINE CONNECTION

In the last 33 years, cellphones have become embedded in our daily lives. But many people still remember what life was like before technology settled in our lives.

Calgarians, Marge and Charlie Fink, met 26 years ago through mutual friends. Six months later, they were married. Today, the methods people use to meet people, are different from when Marge and Charlie were dating.

Online dating has become a popular way for many people to connect. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, 59 per cent of adults in the US use online dating sites to connect with new people.

Video produced by Nick De Lima

“I think it’s better to meet face-to-face,” says Charlie, 59. “You’re not really yourself when you’re talking to someone you’ve never actually met.”

While Marge, 59, agrees with her husband, she is a little more open to what online dating offers people in search of a partner.

“I think I would want to meet someone face-to-face, like at a pub or out with friends or something,” says Marge, “but if I was having trouble with that, I would probably give [online dating] a try.”

Despite Marge’s openness to the idea of online dating, the reality of how certain dating apps work leave both she and her husband a bit taken aback.

For example, Tinder is an app in which people choose to connect with one another based on only one photo of each other. If a user likes the way someone looks in their profile picture, they swipe that picture to the right; if the other person swipes right too, then both people can begin to send messages to one another.

However, if a user doesn’t like the way someone looks, they swipe their profile picture to the left and forget about them. “So it’s based on your appearance?” asks Marge, “but what if they’re a beautiful soul?”

Marge and Charlie worry that people using online dating apps will not feel the same chemistry others have when meeting in public. But some research suggests that might not be the case.

But the Finks remain unconvinced. They worry apps change too many of the traditional dating dynamics.

“What I don’t like is when a guy is picking up a girl for a date nowadays, he doesn’t have to leave his car,” says Marge, “he just has to call her on her cell, and she’ll come running outside.”

“Yeah, that was always kind of a rite of passage for me,” says Charlie. “When they’re completely avoiding those face-to-face moments with the parents, that seems kind of weak.”

Despite the Finks’ reservations about using cellphones to meet new partners, they both own cellphones and use them on a regular basis.

Some would suggest cellphones have turned out to be a double-edged sword. First, because the digital era might be grinding away interpersonal communication, but could be also helping users find people with similar interests:

“Online dating can be so successful because you meet people based on similar interests instead of vicinity,” says Desjarlais, “when you match with someone online, it is because you both like the same things.”

ndelima@cjournal.ca

The editor responsible for this article is Ingrid Mir, imir@cjournal.ca