Moral Panic and Smartphones

The introduction of every new communication technology is accompanied by disparate claims regarding the effect of the technology on society. These range from utopian views, declaring the technology to be a panacea for many of society’s issues to dystopian outlooks which point to potential issues arising from the use of the technology.

The panic over the perversive effects on smartphones is reminiscent of the discourse the surrounded the introduction of television the home. Such fears included the prospect of the family home being inundated by immoral and unwanted influences, which could have a particular impact on the psyche and upbringing of children. The introduction of television also saw health concerns brought into the debates around the future impact of television. The potential health implications claimed by those fuelling the moral panic against television were chiefly social issues caused through isolation and health concerns such as obesity from leading a sedentary lifestyle. These very same concerns are being echoed in the discourse surrounding the ubiquitous nature of smartphone use in modern society.

Dr Dale Archer (2013) points to a phenomenon he describes as ‘nomophobia’, that is, the fear of being without your mobile phone. Worrying about missing out on something is driving us to be constantly connected to our smartphones. With many children owning smartphones and being driven by the same desires, the potential impact on children is being debated.  The difficulty of parental control over the use of these devices and the fact that kids are often using their phones in their bedrooms when they’re supposedly undertaking other activities fuels these conversations.

Moral panics often focus on the impact the particular object of ire has upon children in our society. The worry about the ever present nature of smartphones does not depart from its predecessors in this regard. Currently there are concerns that the widespread unmonitored use of smartphones is leaving children susceptible to predators and online bullying (Krinsky 2013 p.207). The notion that our children’s safety is potentially being compromised within the supposed safety of the family home is of real concern to many.

But are moral panics based upon concerns that may actually eventuate? In the instance of anxieties regarding television, perhaps so; there can be no doubt that people are less active then they previously were and this jeopardises public health through an increase in cases of obesity, diabetes etc.

So this begs the question, if some of the debate surrounding the health impacts of television may have actually been prudent; should we be paying attention to the current warnings regarding the impact of smartphones on our social health?

More importantly and worryingly, does the movement of communication devices into every space, both public and private potentially place the safety of children and teenagers in danger?


Archer, D 2013, ‘Reading Between the (Head) Lines: Smartphone Addiction’, Psychology Today, July 25, accessed 31/8/2013,

Krinsky, C 2013, The Ashgate Research Companion to Moral Panics, e-book, accessed 01 September 2013,


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