Addiction or emancipation? Children’s attachment to smartphones as a cultural practice

Giovanna Mascheroni*

*Autore corrispondente per questo lavoro

Risultato della ricerca: Contributo in libroChapter


The appropriation of smartphones by teenagers and, increasingly, children has raised concern over excessive use, a preoccupation which is sometimes shared by children themselves, complaining that smartphones have changed the context of face-to-face interactions with peers. Children also at times admit to be "addicted" to their phones, feeling the need to check the phone every moment or so. The issue of excessive use has originally been addressed within the field of internet studies through a medical/psychological framework: internet addiction is understood as an impulse-control disorder and as such it not dissimilar to other pathological conditions such as gambling or substance consumption. A medical approach to excessive use is problematic in the case of smartphones. Rather, mobile-specific approaches to young people's communication suggest to frame teenagers' attachment to their mobile phones through the lens of the "emancipation approach", according to which teenagers move out from family sphere through developing a stronger connection with the peer group, also by means of mobile communication. This chapter contrasts the two perspectives on excessive use of smartphones drawing on a quantitative and qualitative data collected across Europe as part of a research project on access and use of the internet from mobile devices among 9-to-16-year-old children. It also shows how looking at excessive smartphones use from a different perspective helps illuminate the process of incorporation of smartphones into every day life, understand how communicative affordances are socially negotiated, while highlighting the continuities with mobile phones and mobile communication in general. The current debate over the appropriate contexts and practices of smartphones use is indeed indicative of the stage of domestication of the device, suggesting that the technology has not yet been normalised and taken for granted. On the other side, however, the appropriation of smartphones draws on users' prior experiences with mobile communication and its affordances. As a consequence, while smartphones are new, social accessibility to peers and parents has already become "normative" with mobile phones. Therefore the context under which smartphones are appropriated and used is shaped by social expectations and norms regulating interactions (among peers or among parent-child), as well as by the specific communicative affordances of devices and apps. At the same time that children recognise their emotional attachment to their personal devices and the contacts the device mediates, they start developing emerging strategies to cope with the constraining nature of full-time accessibility and the potential negative sanctions of failures to conform. These coping strategies manifest the process of social shaping of technological features - such as real time communication through instant messaging apps - and their transformation into communicative affordances witch are socially legitimised and sustainable.
Lingua originaleEnglish
Titolo della pubblicazione ospiteSmartphone cultures
EditorHaddon L. Vincent J.
Numero di pagine14
Stato di pubblicazionePubblicato - 2018


  • addiction
  • children
  • circuit of culture
  • emancipation
  • smartphones


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