I dated a man once who threatened to leave me alone at a restaurant if I were to ever pull out my mobile phone during a meal.
That was in 2005...a decade ago.
At the time, my date didn't even own a cellphone. And if you think he was getting defensive about my phone usage, it wasn't even a smartphone, just an old-school, flip phone.
My date wasn't a Luddite. But in fact, he predicted something that ten years on is entirely common. Even something many people now accept as normal.
What's behind constantly checking our phones.
We spend time with people in face-to-face interactions but are quick turn our gaze away from them towards our small screens. We check to see what's happening in the lives of other people who in reality can wait for our attention.
Okay, geek moment here.
There's actually something that scientists have found happens to our brains when we check our email, Facebook news feed or the like. We have chemicals in our brain that urge us to seek out something new. And when it appears, like an unread email, another chemical gives us the rewards feeling. But once isn't enough. Hence our frequent checking, scrolling and refreshing somehow makes us feel satisfied.
Check out this link to Psychology Today for more on the link between our brains and our smartphones.
Social beings who fear isolation.
In his book, What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, Nicholas Carr argues that "we want to be interrupted, because each interruption brings us a valuable piece of information. To turn off these alerts is to risk feeling out of touch, or even socially isolated."
We're almost hard-wired to want to stay in the loop. That makes sense considering we are made for relationships. But constantly checking our social media on our phones breaks the reality of relating. Sometimes it's with our actual friends on Facebook, but it might be with a complete stranger or celebrity on Instagram.
An option for keeping attentive to at-the-moment conversations could be to turn off many of the alerts and notifications that come to your phone. Instead, choose when or where you will check, leaving time to invest and be present with the people around you.
There's an app for that.
Just a few months ago, I moved from Brisbane back to the Toronto-area in Canada. I have an iPhone, but decided to cancel my Australian plan before I left. Not only that, but the screen on my phone no longer responded as a touch screen. So I was sans-mobile for nearly three weeks before I decided to get around to purchasing a Canadian SIM card.
And you know what, I really enjoyed being disconnected from the digital world.
For those people who don't run into a forced digital disconnect here's an option. There are actually smartphone apps to help you cut down on how much you're using your phone. It's a bit ironic, but perhaps helpful.
Modern distraction we should moderate.
As for that man I dated. Well, I never used my cellphone during any of our dinners. In the end, the relationship didn't work out either. I hope he's happily still not using a cellphone somewhere. It's unlikely, considering 64% of American adults own a smartphone, according to a 2015 Pew Research Center survey.
It's almost as if using a smartphone is just a natural part of modern life.
I'd like to suggest that if your smartphone has become a distraction, it's actually a disservice. We are created for relationships, and virtual ones can never replace face-to-face, in person time. Author, Carr uses the term "socially isolated" to explain our worry of missing a mobile alert or notification. How ironic though, that the very thing that we are not wanting to miss can keep us from being engaged in our real-life social interactions.
I've sometimes been the one to feel slighted when friends pull out their phone mid conversation to check their tests. Ummm, hello, do you see me, that person right in front of you?!
But, I have to admit I've been guilty of it too.
So, if you see me at a shared meal with my gaze turned toward my phone, I give you permission to smack that phone out of my hand.
Lisa Goetze is a 30-something woman trying to love Jesus and love people. She's on a journey to find how to do this best through her love for turning ordinary spaces into welcoming ones, encouraging women of all ages to recognize their value and whenever possible including coffee and good food.
Lisa Goetze's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/lisa-goetze.html