We rely on our smartphones for practically everything — and why not? It's a handheld device with entire ecosystems designed to capture our attention for as long as possible, every single day. They've even become key to how we interact in person, which makes it even more important to understand why.
Sociologists in Norway have developed a rubric to help us break down how we use our phones as tools in face-to-face interactions. Think of meeting a friend at a café: Depending on how you feel about this person, you're likely to rely on your phone for three main purposes.
First, you might use it to interject a pause or a delay in a conversation, what the researchers call "interaction suspension." How this comes across depends on your relationship; it can also turn into "phubbing," or phone snubbing. More innocently, it could just be a way to take a quick break from a longer interaction.
The second way to get out of conversations we don't want to have is "deliberately shielding interaction." Any funny story you've heard or told about faking a call or an important text to skip out on a date falls into this category.
Finally, there's content sharing, and this is the most prosocial of phone uses. Think showing off pet pictures and taking joint selfies with your friend. There's plenty of research out there showing that smartphones aren't destroying anything, sociologically speaking. Just make sure you understand how you're wielding yours — and don't forget to clean it.