Smartphones Are Holding Relationships Hostage

Wherever you are, be all there. – Jim Elliot

It’s fascinating to me how technology changes behavior.

A syndicated article by Chandra Johnson of the Deseret News focused on the new social norms surrounding smartphones, and the changing rules of electronic etiquette.

The reporter mentioned that when telephones were first introduced, society worried that a family would never again be able to eat dinner again without being interrupted by a ringing phone.

And I remember meeting that challenge in the 1980s and 1990s with the “no answering the phone during dinner” rule.

That social shift pales in comparison to today’s smartphone intrusions, which seriously threaten to suck the soul out of both professional and personal relationships. I don’t want to come off as an old, cranky Baby Boomer, and I am the first to admit that my smartphone is stuck to me like glue. And that I am, in fact, addicted to checking email, texts, Facebook, Twitter and Words With Friends on a frighteningly regular basis.

Yet it is increasingly obvious that instead of people controlling their cell phones, their cell phones are controlling them. And relationships are suffering.   

This societal phenomenon is the topic of a book by Sherry Turkle, the Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. According to the New York Times Book Review, “Reclaiming Conversation” makes “a compelling case that children develop better, students learn better and employees perform better when their mentors set good examples and carve out spaces for face-to-face interactions.”

And, I would add, when people PUT AWAY THEIR DEVICES while they are holding their face-to-face interactions. Busy or not, looking at your cell phone while you are involved in a conversation with a friend, co-worker, child, parent or loved one is a sign of disrespect. It feels like the activity on the other end of the device is way more important than what the person across the table is saying.

In fact, nothing is more off-putting than to hold a conversation with someone who keeps looking at his or her phone. When I am with people, I want them to be PRESENT, to hold their full attention, to be respected, to be important. I want to MATTER to them.

I often wonder how today’s technology will impact the toddlers, children, adolescents and young adults coming of age. Will they know HOW to hold a conversation? Will they ever look at the sky in wonder? Will they notice nature’s beauty around them?

I truly believe that you can’t be present with another person when you are continually checking your phone. And being present is so crucial when you are connecting with others. As I watch families in a restaurant stare at their phones, see young people walk through a mall or cross a street with their eyes glued to their screens, wonder how many lovers make the phone their third partner in bed – I can’t help but wonder where we go from here.

For me, I plan to work HARD at being present with others and keeping the phone tucked away when I am in meetings or dining out with friends. I will invoke the “no looking at the phone during dinner” rule, except to take a selfie, of course. If I do need to check my phone, I will ASK PERMISSION from the other person – a sign of respect.

The time has come to disengage from electronics and re-engage with each other. It’s a matter of respect, civility – and humanity.