WACO, Texas (September 26, 2022) – Smartphone users will be disappointed if they expect their devices and social media to meet their need for purpose and meaning. In fact, it probably does the opposite, as researchers at Baylor and Campbell Universities found in a recently published study.
Christopher M. Pieper, Ph.D.Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Baylor University, and lead author Justin J. Nelson, MA ’16, Ph.D. Justin C. ’19D., an assistant professor of sociology at Campbell University, is partnering to understand the complex relationship between the search for meaning and technology by analyzing data from the Baylor Survey of Religion. their research–“The Diseases of Infinite Aspiration: Smartphones and the Search for Meaning and FormationIt was published in the magazine social perspectives.
The researchers’ findings provide a social link to psychological studies that report links between digital devices and media use with loneliness, depression, unhappiness, suicidal ideation, and other poor mental health outcomes.
“Humans are researchers — we seek meaning in our relationships, our work, our faith, in all areas of social life,” Bieber said. “As researchers, we were interested in the role that smartphones – and the media that give us instant access to them – might play in the search for meaning.
“We conclude that the smartphone attachment…could be so anomalycausing the collapse of social values due to the unstructured and limitless options it offers to search for meaning and purpose and inadvertently exacerbating feelings of despair while at the same time promising to resolve them,” said Pieper. “Searching for oneself becomes the only meaningful activity, a foundation Perversion and addiction.”
Nelson and Pepper also found a link between this search for meaning and feelings of attachment to your smartphone — a possible precursor to technology addiction.
“Our research finds that searching for meaning is associated with increased smartphone attachment — a feeling of panic if your phone stops working,” Nelson said. “Social media use is also associated with increased feelings of attachment.”
Researchers focused on responses to questions used in the fifth wave of patriotism Baylor Religion Survey related to ICT devices, as well as questions about the meaning and purpose of the Meaning in Life Questionnaire, to show that while devices promise satisfaction and meaning, they often deliver the opposite.
A key finding of the study is that this sense of connectedness is higher for those who use social media less. However, research has found that individuals seeking solace or calling on their phones in shorter periods of time may exacerbate attachment.
“Interestingly, this correlation decreases for the heaviest social media users,” Pieper said. “Although we don’t know how this group uses social media, it may be that normal use at the highest levels erases feelings of attachment to the individual – as we have said, it would be like saying one is connected to one’s eyes or lungs.”
One positive finding that researchers have found is that setting a satisfying life goal appears to provide a protective effect against this sense of connectedness and abnormality, although this effect is not nearly as strong as the opposite effect of a search for meaning. Taken together, a purpose-supported media use, such as family, work, or faith, is likely to be less likely to produce alienating effects for the individual, the researchers said. But, without knowing what specific users are doing online, this remains a question for future research.
“What we’ve discovered is a social mechanism that draws us into smartphone use, and that may keep us addicted, exacerbating feelings of attachment, abnormality, and even disconnection, while promising the opposite,” Pieper said.
Christopher M. Piper, Ph.D., has been a faculty member in sociology at Baylor University since 2011. His research interests include political sociology, social theory, and religion and technology/media. He has published and presented widely on topics related to culture and politics, in particular the role of ethics in social movements.
Justin J. Nelson, Ph.D., has master’s and doctoral degrees. He received his Ph.D. in Sociology from Baylor University and joined the Campbell University faculty in 2018, where he is an Assistant Professor of Sociology. His research interests include technology/media, society, family, education and religion.
About Baylor University
Baylor University is a private Christian university and 1 nationally ranked research institution. The university provides a vibrant campus community of more than 20,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Certified in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of pioneer Baptists, Baylor is the oldest continuously operating university in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 90 countries to study a wide range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic departments.
About the College of Arts and Sciences at Baylor University
The College of Arts and Sciences is the largest academic department at Baylor University, consisting of 25 academic departments in the sciences, humanities, fine arts, and social sciences, as well as 10 academic centers and institutes. The 5,000-plus courses taught at the college include subjects from art and theater to religion, philosophy, sociology, and the natural sciences. The college conducts research all over the world, and research is spread at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels across all disciplines. visit baylor.edu/artsandsciences.
“Diseases of Infinite Aspiration”: Smartphones, the Search for Meaning, and Formation
The date the article was published
August 4, 2022
The author(s) declare that there is no potential conflict of interest regarding the research, authorship and/or publication of this article.
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