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Sarah Woodruff



Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


Smartphones and social media have played an important role in changing, and expanding, how people communicate, connect, interact, and obtain information, especially amongst young adults. As with any new technology or innovation that garners rapid uptake and/or near universal adoption, it is imperative for researchers to gain an appreciation for, and understanding of, these technologies and their impacts on society. Thus, the dissertation sought to extend current understandings of smartphone and social media use amongst young adults by addressing several limitations identified in the existing literature. In Study 1, suboptimal, but commonly used, self-report measures of smartphone and social media use were compared to their objective equivalents. The findings of Study 1 suggest the existence of discrepancies between self-report and objective measurements of smartphone and social media usage and that, whenever feasible, researchers should opt to collect objective measurements of smartphone and social media usage. Moreover, the study also highlights the benefits of mobile data donation and the ease with which this technique can be employed to collect objective measurements of smartphone and social media usage. Study 2 addressed two other commonly reported limitations of existing smartphone and social media research: reliance on foundational studies, despite vast changes to the smartphone and social media landscapes since their publication and a lack of qualitative studies that contextualize quantitative findings. Thus, the purpose of Study 2 was to obtain an updated understanding of smartphone and social media usage habits amongst young adults via semi-structured interviews, which also required participants to engage in mobile data donation and share their smartphone and social media usage data from the previous two-week period. To gain a holistic understanding of participants’ smartphone and social media usage, motivational, learning, and sociocultural theoretical perspectives were used, and a critical realist lens guided all components of the study. Smartphone and social media use data, provided by participants, were analyzed descriptively, and using intraclass correlations. Then, content analyses of interview transcripts were conducted to obtain an understanding of participants smartphone and social media habits with regards to a) uses and gratifications; b) drawbacks; c) interferences; d) reasons for interference; and e) alternative activities. Overall, results suggest that young adults may not accurately perceive their smartphone and social media usage. Moreover, although some findings from foundational studies may still be relevant today, others are not, providing support for the need to re-evaluate smartphone and social media use literature as their landscapes evolve. Finally, Study 3 builds upon Study 1 and 2 and contributes to the dearth of experimental studies investigating the consequences of social media digital detoxing, while also addressing several limitations of previously conducted detoxes. Also, it sought to ascertain a better understanding of participant’s experiences and perceptions of a social media digital detox. To do so, qualitative exit-interviews were conducted after the completion a one-group pre-test/post-test (with follow up) intervention design. Overall, this study provides support for the use of social media digital detoxes, reporting beneficial effects for smartphone and social media addiction, and many other health and wellness outcomes.

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