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Smartphones As Digital Companions: Characterizing The Relationship Between Users And Their Phones

Astrid Carolus, Jens F Binder, Ricardo Muench, Catharina Schmidt, Florian Schneider, Sarah L Buglass

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Based on the idea of computers constituting social agents and referring to core characteristics of human–human relationships, this study introduces the concept of a digital companionship between smartphone users and their devices. Constituting characteristics (closeness, trust, preoccupation) and outcomes (stress, coping with stress) of social relationships were adapted to yield a model of human–smartphone relationships for empirical testing. A cross-national sample of participants ( n = 1156) completed an online study, which included self-report measures as well as a newly developed instrument (Positioning Others and Devices [POD]) assessing the closeness to technical devices and social actors. Results showed the smartphone to be the closest device. Furthermore, structural equation modeling lent support for the theoretical model indicating that trust and preoccupation mediate the relationship between closeness to the smartphone and stress and coping. Findings support the concept of companionship as a fruitful approach to explain smartphone-related behaviors.