Some time back, my daughter asked me to rub her back. I noticed myself hesitate. My addiction to my phone took over – I wanted to keep doing emails, checking Facebook, and beating people I didn’t even know at Scrabble. I had to remind myself that my relationship with my daughter was more important than distracting myself with my phone. I made myself put it down and a sweet interaction and conversation ensued as she laid on the floor of our living room in the dim quiet light while I massaged her aches away.
Last year, when I heard that a friend of mine had a death in the family, my heart went out to her. I lovingly sent out a text to her, and I let other friends know so they could send their condolences. Upon hearing the news from me, another friend of mine immediately went to her house to offer support. I was shocked to realize that it had never occurred to me to do that. I had forgotten that a text was a poor substitute for real human contact.
I can barely have a conversation with my children anymore without several abrupt pauses as they respond to the latest notifications (so many!!) We are hard pressed to get through a meal as a family without looking up something on our phones. The phone is generally the last thing we look at before sleep and the first thing we look at when awake. We take it with us every time we visit the bathroom. It is frightening to watch myself and my family glued more and more to our screens. We are like addicts in need of our technological “fix”, lest we die from withdrawal, boredom or loneliness.
Our clients consistently bring up phone use as a major cause of arguments in their relationships. They used to snuggle at night in bed, now they read on their phones. They used to connect by sharing a TV show, now they each scroll on their phones while parked in front of the TV. They don’t know how to fix it, but they know they hate feeling ignored and distant, prompting the argument-starter, “You’re always on your phone!”
What is happening to us? How is this digital age impacting our relationships and our families?
Screens: phones, TV’s, computers, and tablets are a ubiquitous presence in our lives. It seems we prefer texting, posting, swiping, liking, blogging, scanning countless images, videos, and devouring the latest gossip or news snippet to being present to our lives. As a result, we talk less, interact less and get out of the house less. We rarely make eye contact and we have less sex. We take fewer risks. We have fewer deep, rewarding interactions with our spouse, children and friends. We are lonelier and more disconnected and isolated than ever. This new way of living is becoming a new way of not living.
We see the impact of this digital age all the time in our relationship work. We come across many singles who are understandably desperate for intimacy. So-called “dating” apps are but shopping catalogues for the perfect “person”, and the dates with prospective partners that occur after meeting online are often judging fests with little or no genuine connection. Most singles are touch and affection starved. As a result, many feel hopelessly sure there is something wrong with them and afraid they will be lonely forever.
Surprisingly, couples can feel just as lonely and disconnected in their homes and marriages. They can go months or even years without talking, looking at each other, or making sweet deep love. Many men disappear into their work, computer or porn worlds while women lose themselves in TV dramas and
Netflix series. Turns out many couples are just as starved for love and touch as their single counterparts.
Many of my women friends who have relatively happy lives are sure they are the only ones who never get out much, are never invited to parties or events or dinners. But in reality, all of us are merely spending way too much time on our screens, pretending we have lots of friends and connections as we scroll through pages of posts and pictures, feeling involved in life by proxy as we Netflix the latest episode of our favorite TV series. Just look around the next time you walk into a coffee shop or bookstore – there isn’t much real human interaction and conversation going on anywhere these days. Is it any wonder we feel lonely? And the cycle is self-perpetuating, as we go to our screens to find the connection we long for, we reinforce the very thing that keeps us feeling disconnected in the first place!
I am almost 65 years old, so I have known life without smartphones and computers. I remember playing outside and spending hours camping and swimming and playing games when I was growing up. I remember reading books out loud with my parents before bed and having conversations about our day over dinner. We worked together in the yard, cooked meals and cleaned up together and engaged in crafting projects. We played with our animals. Watching television was something that happened sparingly in the evenings. Going to the theatre was a rare special treat.
My past helps me remember that life is richest and my relationships more meaningful away from electronic gizmos. Each activity in real life that I design into my day contributes more to my body, heart and soul than any news feed ever has.
I play pickle ball. I learn new songs on the piano. I coach clients and lead workshops. We engage in community workdays. Christian and I take walks regularly in nature. We vacation at new places every year. We dance and laugh and crack jokes and sing songs. We have a “no phone” table policy, with and without our kids around, which means mealtimes are for conversation. We make love making and touch a priority. We invite friends over for dinner and games and holiday celebrations that are purposefully interactive, playful and memorable.
For the past several months, I have taken on a new habit to start my day without my phone. I spend a couple of hours sitting outside in nature, enjoying my kittens as they play in the yard, appreciating nature, enjoying conversation with my husband and any guests who might be visiting, and actually tasting my breakfast as I eat it. It is such a refreshing wonderful engaged way to start my day!
Each activity without screens encourages us to meet the unexpected play of life in motion with undivided focus, to be in the time consuming messiness, awkwardness, deliciousness and pleasure of real relating and living in all its variety.
Still, even with knowing all that we know, we can feel the pull of the screen. And I don’t mean to say it’s all bad, either. Our phones also provide connection that wouldn’t otherwise be there. Christian gets to Facetime with his family in Denmark. We have loads of fun sharing hilarious videos over text with our son. We stay in touch with our daughter on Snapchat. It’s complicated!
We still judge our children and their friends for having phones glued to their hands, even when they’re together, with little eye contact and real conversation. For them, like us, the pull of technology is constant. But they know the richness of life without phones too. Our son came alive with purpose and perspective when he volunteered in Bali for a summer, a location with sketchy internet connection. In retrospect, he appreciated more than ever his media-free Waldorf Education. Our daughter enjoyed the peaceful beauty of nature, singing songs and working together in the elements when she joined her class for an 8th grade field trip on the shores of Maine without phones, a trip she still recounts with great fondness!
Both of our children and their friends appreciate it (even though they hate it) when we tell them to put phones aside for a meal, an activity or visit – they literally come alive as they engage with us, each other and their surroundings.
It is more and more imperative that we insist on making time to really be with each other in this life; to not let the pull of our screens put us to sleep to what really matters. There is nothing that fills us up more than genuine interaction with other human beings, than being present to the beauty of these bodies in this life with all of our senses. No one wishes they had spent more time on their phones when faced with death. They wish they had danced more, loved more, played more, touched more, laughed more.
Meaning, contribution, mystery, play, passion, love and transformation show up in real life; it is not replicable on any screen. It is in relationship with life and others that we see and feel ourselves, where we are supported to grow and experience and play and transform and create and manifest.
I believe that in this digital age, we are challenged more than ever to create meaningful, passionate, joyful, love-filled lives and relationships. And for those of us who happen to still remember life before TV and computers and phones, well, we may be the last generation to impart to our youth the value of eye-contact, delivering appreciations, having loving sex, being vulnerably honest, sharing deep feelings, taking risks, being in nature and focusing our attention on who and what we love. To do so, we will need to find the commitment and courage to disconnect from our own technological gadgets, to get out of the house, to make intimacy and relating a priority, to role model what is possible when our children ask for our attention or time or a back rub and we don’t hesitate to put down our phones.
If you would like to deepen your relationship and life experience, and if you would like to create a intimate relationship less driven apart by screens, you are invited to put down your phone and join us for a mini-workshop, Screen Time in Your Relationship.
This mini-workshop is not about banning phones or making any feel shameful for using a phone. Heck, you’ll need a phone or computer to be in the mini-workshop! It’s about helping you to look at what’s important in your relationship, how to NOT let phones ruin your intimacy, and coming up with solutions that work for you! Learn more here …