Smartphones Contribute to the Rise in Social Anxiety and Awkwardness

5 Teens on Phones (image source:

My March column, Do Smartphones Have a Place in Schools?  generated a diverse range of opinions, notably from parents concerned that their child’s excessive smartphone usage is significantly reducing their one-on-one social interactions at a time in their life when they should be developing social skills that’ll play an essential determining factor in their child’s future success.

Based on my observations, social anxiety and awkwardness have become prevalent among today’s youth, which is sadly understandable. Today, we inhabit a world surrounded by smartphones that enable its owner to film our “behaviour moment(s)” and post online, potentially affecting us for years. We’re constantly under pressure to check ourselves. I can’t fathom what my high school years would’ve been like if my classmates had a device in their pocket that could capture my “moments” and then post them for the entire world to see. Imagine how insecure and self-conscious teenagers today must feel knowing their peers can capture and post their teenage angst and how this new world order is contributing to the rise in mental health issues.

Clicking and swiping on a smartphone undeniably makes life easier. I accomplish many everyday activities, such as banking, shopping, and ordering food delivery via my smartphone. My smartphone places the world at my fingertips. These activities used to require me to go out into the real world, mingle with people or pick up a phone and talk to someone. As a heavy smartphone/Internet user—”My name is Nick, and I’m a heavy smartphone user.”—I venture out much less than I did pre-smartphone, resulting in my having fewer encounters with people. My experience, not unique, raises, at the risk of someone yelling, “Boomer rhetoric!” the question: Are smartphones hindering social skills development among young people? 

There’s a tendency to blame social media and the Internet for the rampant destruction of our social fabric. Since a smartphone’s primary purpose is to provide access to the digital world wherever you are, discussions regarding smartphone usage are pseudo-discussions about social media and the Internet. Using a smartphone to make and receive phone calls ranks far down after texting, scrolling through social media, taking pictures, and playing games. 

Throughout history, every new form of media consumption has been blamed for the decline of socialization. A small grain of truth may lie in the theory that books, newspapers, radio, television, and the Walk.

For the first time in human history, a handheld device enables us to consume copious quantities of media. Also worth noting, unlike books, newspapers, or even television, smartphones simulate socialization when you text back and forth or post videos, pictures, memes, or other content that gets likes and comments, which many associate with social status.

Forming and maintaining friendships and relationships requires cognitive effort. Because making “digital friends” is easier and less ego-taxing than forming real-life friends, many people are no longer interested in putting in the effort to form and maintain meaningful relationships. Therefore, young people—actually people of all ages—are increasingly engaging with digital friends, such as Facebook friends, to achieve social fulfillment. 

Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, or X/Twitter aren’t high-value experiences compared to—digging into my childhood—playing street hockey, attending a friend’s house party while their parents are away, or taking your high school crush on a date in your 15-year-old Buick Skylark with only $20 in your pocket.

Additionally, the smartphone has significantly affected our perception of the world. Yes, there’re depressing global issues, and the economy isn’t doing us any favours. However, thanks to our smartphones constantly informing us of all the ills in the world, many believe we’ve entered a pre-apocalyptic period, so why bother? Hence, there’s a growing tendency to escape into the digital world, where it’s easy to find and connect with like-minded individuals, join online communities supporting your beliefs, and criticize societal injustices anonymously.

There’s no doubt that smartphones, being a conduit to social media and the Internet, are rapidly engineering all age demographics to become people-avoidant and socially inept to the extent we’re unable to make friends, date respectfully, get involved in our community, or buy clothes without our smartphone. Maybe it’s just me, but many people I meet are either engulfed in sadness or enraged because of something they just read or saw online via their smartphone prior to our meeting. 

We won’t revive book clubs and bowling leagues by watching YouTube videos or bring back the euphoria of meeting “the one” while standing in line at a local coffee shop versus “they’ll do” by swiping on Tinder. As long as the trend of preferring to stay home, hermit-like, and scroll carries on, gatherings, meeting people, and feeling comfortable striking up a conversation with a stranger will continue to decline. With all the talk about how social media, the Internet and smartphones negatively impact our ability to interact with each other, I hope the day will come—sooner rather than later—when we realize that increasing our screen time isn’t creating a better world.


Nick Kossovan, a self-described connoisseur of human psychology, writes about what’s on his mind from Toronto. You can follow Nick on Twitter and Instagram @NKossovan.

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