Technology is evolving so quickly that many of us are barely aware of how our behavior is changing and how our most important relationships are threatened.

by Dave Boehi

Direct Link to article on FamilyLife: Are You Married to Your Cell Phone?

You’re driving down a city street and find yourself stuck behind someone
going 15 mph below the speed limit.  What’s your first thought?  That guy
needs to get off his cell phone!

You’re sitting in the stands at a high school football game.  You notice that
many of the students are not only ignoring the game but they’re also ignoring
the friends seated beside them—instead they are busy texting other friends.

You walk through an airport concourse and notice a man pacing back and forth,
waving his hands while he talks on his cell phone in a voice that bounces off
the walls 30 yards away.  You think, That’s why I hope they never allow
people to make calls with their cell phones on a flight.  

Sound familiar?  In the last 15 years the cell phone has conquered the
world.  I could make a list of 50 ways these phones have improved our lives.
But if you’re like me and can remember what life was like before we all got cell
phones, you may wonder if all the changes are really for the good.

Remember those days when you could go to a movie—or to church—and not worry
about being distracted by ringing phones or by the white glow of someone texting
a friend?  Remember when meetings at work weren’t interrupted by phone calls
that people just had to accept?

And here’s one more scene we all see regularly:

You walk into a restaurant and you notice a couple seated near you.  And you
notice that they really are not enjoying this opportunity to be together,
because one is patiently waiting for the other to stop talking or texting on the
cell phone.  And you think, How sad that they aren’t talking to each other.

Plugged in 24/7

Adjusting to some form of new technology is nothing new.  Electricity,
automobiles, telephones, radio, television, computers, and many other new
inventions sparked significant changes in our culture and in the way we related
to our spouses, our children, and our friends.  But the pace of change since
1995 has been breathtaking.  We’ve seen the emergence of the internet and of
mobile phones, and then the convergence of the two.  We can now be plugged in
wherever we are, 24/7.

The technology is evolving so quickly that most of us are barely aware of how
our behavior is changing and our relationships are affected.  As one reader
wrote after I addressed this issue a couple months ago in a series of
Marriage Memo e-mails, “These mobile devices can take over your life.”
Another said, “I understand technology has its advantages, but we are being
ruled by the technology rather than using it as a tool.”

A number of readers were dismayed at how addiction to the new technology was
affecting their marriages.  For example:

  • “I’m usually the spouse waiting for my husband to get off the cell, iPad,
    instagram, text messaging, Facebook, or some other game that has him hooked. I’m
    tired of having my conversations through text messages and would enjoy an
    old-fashioned conversation face-to-face. But the truth is we barely have
    anything to say to each other anymore.”
  • “My husband and I have struggled for the last 25 years of our marriage with
    conversation, but what has happened now is Facebook has taken over.  If dinner
    isn’t ready when he comes home, he’s on Facebook until it is.  Every morning he
    gets up and hits Facebook to see who’s been on.  Sadly he does not see it as an
    issue.  And I fear I am not alone in this.”
  • “I am one of those people at the restaurant with her spouse, waiting and
    feeling lonely. My husband is always looking at his phone, checking his email or
    his bank account, his Facebook, and his texts. I just sit waiting and thinking
    to myself, Why am I not good enough for him? Why does he have to be
    entertained by everyone and everything else?
    It deeply depresses me and he
    just cannot understand my point of view.”

Replacing conversation with connectivity

Some people gravitate toward texting or Twitter for communication just as
they did years ago toward e-mail—it’s simpler, faster, easier.  What they don’t
realize is how much is lost in those mediums—emotion, facial expressions, tone
of voice, and much more.  It can be dangerous to replace conversation with

One woman wrote about problems in her marriage:  “… many arguments occur
because of something that was texted and was misunderstood by one of us.  Today
my husband texted me after refusing to have a conversation last night. I thought
the tone of his text was ugly and didn’t respond.  Later he texted me asking why
I didn’t respond and I said I would rather talk than text because texting can be
misunderstood. His response was ‘I enjoy texting. Speak message. Little emotion.
Can get right to point.’”

What a classic quote, and so typically male:  “I enjoy texting. Speak
message. Little emotion. Can get right to point.”  The problem is that real
relationships require real conversation and real emotion.

“When we text, e-mail, Facebook, and the like, we lose a vital piece of
relationships: the emotional connection,” wrote another reader.  “Without the
sound of our voices, the body language, the touch, we as humans lose what God
intended to be a vital part of how we are supposed to relate and a vital part of
how we are supposed to receive love and be in communion with others.”

Household rules

It’s not that the technology
is inherently bad.  Far from it—it helps us connect with people in many positive
ways.  The problem is that so many people are unable to control it.  It’s as if
they are married to their cell phones.

I received some great tips
from readers about the boundaries they were implementing to promote face-to-face
communication in their marriages.  Here are some highlights:

1. No devices at the dinner table.

This was mentioned many times in e-mails. Dinner time
should be reserved for face-to-face conversation.  There will be plenty of time
after dinner to reply to phone calls and text messages.

One family calls this rule
“TTT—Timeout from Technology at the Table.”

2. No phones at the restaurant. 

“My husband and I have made a deal for date nights,” wrote
one wife.  “He is way too plugged in to TV and his phone. Therefore when we are
out at restaurants we are not allowed to use our phones unless it is a call from
the babysitter.  Also we do not go to restaurants that have televisions because
he will be too distracted, and I will be mad that he is not totally engaged.  We
all need to find time daily to disconnect from all the information and reconnect
with our families with good ‘old-fashioned’ conversation.”

Another reader said she and
her husband leave their cell phones in the car before they enter a restaurant.

3. No texting or talking about really important personal issues over the phone.

This should be done face-to-face, unless it is something that can’t wait.  One reader
said, “There is a huge gap in a ‘conversation’ when texting because you don’t
really fully understand what that person really means unless you hear the tone
in their voice or see their face and a lot can be taken the wrong way, creating
bad feelings, etc.”

Love the one you’re with

All these boundaries
establish a strong family value:  When you’re with someone, that
relationship is your priority. 
Retraining will take some time if you, your
spouse, or your children have become addicted to your devices.  But keeping them
in their rightful place will, in the words of one reader, “open up the door to
more intimate communication with your spouse and family.”

I also liked the comment
from a reader who pointed out, “Anything that becomes a necessity has the
ability to become an idol.”  In other words, you can become so attached to your
smartphone that it basically becomes the most important thing in your life:  “If
you can’t live without a gadget … throw it away.  If a gadget is absorbing most
of your leisure time … throw it away!

“Life is too short.  Let’s
not invest what little time we have in meaningless endeavors.”

For more on this topic, including advice on parenting issues related to
new technology, I suggest reading the three-part series I wrote for
Marriage Memo.  Much of  this article is adapted from that original series.

Copyright © 2012 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.