Cell phones are useful for texting quick bites of information and staving off boredom, but they also help us dodge unwanted interactions, a new report shows.
A national survey conducted by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project found that 13 percent of cell phone users reported deflecting awkward conversations by faking phone calls.
Certain cell phones and smart phone apps even feature this fake phone call function. The Samsung Gusto and Samsung C3050 both have this capability. The Gusto model advertises its "Fake Call" feature, which "sets your phone ringing for an 'incoming call' that you simply 'must' take."
The Fake-A-Call app by Excelltech Inc. is sold on iTunes. The description reads, "Get out of bad dates, impress your friends, and prank your enemies!"
But this type of avoidance behavior may further deteriorate our face-to-face communication skills.
Emerson Smith, a sociologist and clinical research associate professor at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, said that both cell phones and the ear buds that are often attached to them signals to others: "don't bother me."
It's part of a growing trend of social media and mobile phones Smith said, one which allows us to reach far-flung relatives and friends, but that also prevents us from dealing with "a lot of the really complex situations that take place in face-to-face interactions."
"In one way, all these means of communication enable us to get messages to others more quickly than we ever have before and get messages to as many people as we want to, into the thousands. It enables us to talk to anybody, anywhere in the world. It expands our horizons. But it also takes away from our ability to deal with each other one-on-one," he said.
According to Smith, such behavior can become problematic in certain scenarios, such as the workplace.
"It is a problem if individuals are always working to be alone, especially if their work requires that they consult with others and meet face-to-face with others, including fellow employees or customers," he said.
The same Pew study found that even with inventive features, cell phone frustrations arise. Some 20 percent of cell owners experienced frustration because their phone was taking too long to download something, 16 percent had difficulty reading something on their phone because the screen was too small; and 10 percent had trouble entering a lot of text on their phone.
Still, the report finds that most remain faithfully addicted to their mobile phones: only 29 percent of cell owners turn off their phone just to get a break from using it.