Put Down That Phone!

Put Down That Phone! May 9, 2014

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.

Bad parents!  What parents do instead of being present to their kids’ piano recitals

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.

This blog was inspired by a video Kai showed me (posted at the bottom).  I started writing, left for the gym, and came home to these comments she typed into my computer:

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.

Missed opportunities.

So for all my concern, at least she gets it.

Here’s the video that inspired all this conversation:

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  • Levedi

    How often do those grocery line conversations spawn real, lasting relationships? How often are they even edifying or deeper than complaining about the line and the weather. On the other hand, the person in line using their phone may be using that time to catch up on the news or read politics thereby becoming a better informed citizen. They may be saying hello to a friend or colleague who is too far away for regular face to face contact, thereby maintaining relationships that in a previous era would die for lack of contact. Or they could be reading their lectionary, maintaining a connection to the word of God that they struggle to find time for. Or they could be making a list of things to do/paying bills/making appointments or doing other chores, thereby keeping themselves efficient and freeing more time for interaction with their family. In other words, cell phone use is so much deeper than it appears to the outside observer and that’s one of its benefits. Cell phone use is private in a way that public conversations are not. You will never know what use those cell phone users are making of their time, so how can you presume to judge them?

    • Hanan

      >How often do those grocery line conversations spawn real, lasting relationships?

      Why does it even have to be some lasting relatioship to be meaningful? These are people in our communities that we see more than just once. It doesn’t have to become a long lasting friendship to have value to it. But you make a point, they may be doing one of hundreds of things on their phones. But that is just it. There are no more boundaries. And it’s these same people that check their phones be informed citizens that do it when they are with their children and spouses and friends when they should be tuned into the actual people, not avatars of others. There is a place and time for everything. With the iphones, that is lost because all yoru doing every single moment is needing to connect to hundreds of things, that more instances than not….are not THAT critical to be done right there and than.

    • Hanan

      >In other words, cell phone use is so much deeper than it appears to the outside observer and that’s one of its benefits.

      There are no “outsiders” since we all live in this world now and we all have these devises and, like I said, we know more often than not that people aren’t really doing important things all the time. They are on it for the same reason the man climbed the mountain….because it’s there.

    • John Cope

      How about using the cellphone to actually, you know, *talk* to someone?

    • Alice

      One of the problems with our society is thinking that we must be productive or entertained every single minute. Attention spans are getting shorter and shorter, and people get more and more impatient. Sometimes we need to just be in the moment interacting with the people around us or sitting quietly and not worrying about all the things we’re “supposed” to be doing.

    • That’s a great point. But I do wonder if we’re missing some of those random connections that could end up in real relationships…

  • jeny jhon

    check this …

  • Andy