Last fall, Kai complained that all her friends had smartphones and she didn’t. On one hand, she complained because she wanted one SO BAD. On the other hand, she noticed that during lunch, rather than chatting or gossiping, laughing or telling stories—all the things one would hope to do with a gang of best buds—everyone was staring at their device. She could only twiddle her thumbs in thin air.
I suggested she say, “Hey guys, let’s put our phones down and talk.” She looked at me like I was an idiot.
It was against my better judgment that we gave all 3 kids iPhones for Christmas. We struck a deal—they pay for the service out of their allowances. But my concern was exactly what Kai described. That rather than building real relationships, my kids would harbor the illusion they had many friends while not only stagnating or regressing in social skills, but in reality being alone.
I can’t help it. As a minister/sociologist, I care about genuine human relationship more than almost anything. Indeed, I believe that our spiritual lives can be measured by the quality and depth of our relationships. Or as Mama used to say to me in the days when I was the only professing follower of Jesus in the family, “Don’t tell me you’re a Christian when you’re being mean to your siblings.” (Of course, in Chinese).
So while I’ve loved reconnecting with old friends via Facebook and receiving 139 birthday greetings last week for my 49th, I also have serious concerns about social media subbing for face-to-face, or even voice-to voice socializing. My husband, the IT guy, calls me a Luddite, saying maybe social media IS the new way for our kids’ generation.
Yet one of the greatest spiritual disciplines is being present to whatever moment or company we’re in. When I’m spending time with you, I want you to be present to me rather than texting a friend miles away, in the same way I wanted that guy shaking my hand at my 1st frat party to look me in the eye rather than wink at a girl across the room.
Of course, I’m just as bad as everyone else. I hide behind my computer. When I’m bored, rather than engaging with the person next to me in the supermarket line, I whip out my phone and check email. Sometimes I even find myself sad that I’ve worked through my email because now what am I going to do with myself?
Kai vowed that she wouldn’t hide behind her phone. Easier said than done. We don’t risk rejection or ridicule when we engage with a device than a person.
At parties, the smartphone addiction is prominent and it’s really annoying. Everybody has this app called Snapchat, which is when you take pictures and can send them for the receiver to see for up to ten seconds. After the allotted time, the picture disappears. At parties, everybody has their phone out, taking pictures and sharing it with someone who’s not there. It makes it seem as though they would rather hang out with those friends than the ones that are present.
Also, I’ve been opposed to getting an Instagram. The whole point of Instagram is that you capture a beautiful photo , then put it through a bunch of filters and corrections and post it on the site to get maximum likes, so you can assure yourself that your photo really IS pretty. My point is if you’re focusing on taking the photo, putting the photo in the cutest filter, and then editing the photo to post on Instagram, your eyes are glued to your screen instead of absorbing and enjoying the beautiful view or friends at the table with you.
It also seems that it’s really hard to capture how beautiful a moment is and convey that fully. When I’m on vacation, I get distracted and feel stressed when I have a camera in my hands. I feel the need to capture every single thing so I can post an album of pictures where I look good on Facebook and show what an amazing vacation I’m having or how cute my friends and I are. That feeling would become even more prevalent if I had an Instagram (I think).
ALSO, our school has very gray lines around the cell phone rule. Technically, you cannot use your phone from the point when the bell marking the start of class rings to when the bell marking the end of class rings. Whenever the class ends early and the teacher tells us just to hang out for a bit, the phones come out. Instead of sitting and chatting and becoming better friends with those in your class, everybody is absorbed in talking to somebody in the other part of the school.
So for all my concern, at least she gets it.
Here’s the video that inspired all this conversation: