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Mobile phones have changed our idea of social competence

News: Sep 26, 2019

Social competence is highly valued across many professional contexts, but it isn’t entirely clear what it actually means. Nanna Gillberg is studying how digitalisation and mediatisation affect our norms, values and social climate. She sees a shift in what we view as social competence.

Mobile phones might look small and innocent, but the truth is they control and dominate our inner lives more than anything or anyone else. How did we end up here?

– We’re considered socially competent when we use our phones to like posts on social media, or to share and network with other people. But what happens when people prioritise recording and sharing their lives rather than actually experiencing them? What does that do to our relationships and social climate, asks Nanna Gillberg, a researcher at the University of Gothenburg.

She argues that constant online activity is promoted and even encouraged by society at large. As a result, we’ve become more and more inured to rude behaviour – phones take priority over everything.

– Fiddling with your phone is an emphatically clear signal that you’ve lost all interest in the person you’re talking to. And yet, this behaviour, these constant phone timeouts, have somehow become the norm.

People hearing without listening

Interacting with your phone, rather than the person sitting across from you, barely even raises an eyebrow these days.

– This divide in our attention between the digital and the physical world ends up causing all kinds of situations where people are really only physically present. Mentally they’re somewhere else, telling their digital audience what a great time they’re having. This has a profound impact on our social climate – aspects like integrity, intimacy and reciprocity simply fall by the wayside.

Many researchers warn that our phone addiction bears similarities with drug addiction. In Nanna’s opinion, our addiction to phones is sanctioned by society at large.

– The fact that we’re addicted to using phones seems pretty clear when you actually look at the data and see how much of our lives we give up just to spend more time in front of our screens.

Everyone’s an enabler

She argues that people tend to associate screens with the future, efficiency and productivity. Whenever there’s a new headline about unhealthy phone habits, the idea is always just taking a break, perhaps during your vacation.

– Society actually encourages us to continue rather than stop, says Nanna Gillberg.

Nanna Gillberg presents her research on our phone habits in her book ”Påsatt och avskärmad – i en uppkopplad värld” (”Plugged in and spaced out in a connected world”), available this September. In it, she also addresses how we’re increasingly demanding that our physical reality adapt to our digital existence. She is also representing the University of Gothenburg at the annual Göteborg Book Fair; the theme this year is media awareness.


Nanna Gillberg is a business researcher at the School of Business, Economics and Law at the University of Gothenburg and she lectures on digitalisation, gender equality and work environment issues. Her research focuses on how digitalisation and mediatisation affect norms and values, social climate and value creation.

Nanna Gillberg's website


Nanna Gillberg, 0046 739-302016, nanna.gillberg@gu.se

Cecilia Sjöberg, Communications Manager
Tel: 0046 31-7862008, cecilia.sjoberg@gu.se
By Cecilia Sjöberg

Article first published on: gri.handels.gu.se




Page Manager: Anna Spyrou|Last update: 2/20/2019

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