06 Apr Put Your Phone Down: How Technology Negatively Impacts Face-to-Face Communication
Jane’s phone alerted her to a new message in her email inbox. She picked it up off the white linen tablecloth and clicked a few buttons not noticing the dejected look on her husband’s face. After checking the message, Jane put the phone back down and looked up at Brad, only to see him playing that game on his phone, again. Here they were, at this fancy restaurant, celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary, and he was playing on his phone instead of paying attention to her. She sighed and decided she might as well check into what her Facebook friends were up to as long as her husband was more interested in his game than in her. Brad glanced up from his game and, sure enough, she was still on her phone. Well, he was almost to level 87, so he might as well keep playing.
The elderly widower sitting nearby watched Brad and Jane with a tear in his eye. Oh, how he longed for one more night with his dear departed wife. One more night to hold her hand, look into her eyes and give her all of his attention. One more night to listen to her talk about her hopes and dreams and laugh with her about silly things. His heart broke as he watched the young couple just sitting there coexisting. Don’t they understand? Why are they wasting so much precious time?
From the outsider’s perspective, this scenario could not be more frustrating. Yet, although we can see the problems with it, we fall victims to our cell phones all too often. Though advancements in technology should be celebrated, it’s face-to-face communication that ultimately suffers.
This isn’t just an opinion. We already know from a recent study that the use of technology in relationships distances partners, causes trust issues and misunderstandings, distracts partners from sharing intimate moments, and even impairs trust. Another study found that half of its participants had been ignored by a partner while they were using their phone. They found this trend so popular that they even gave it a catchy new name – phubbing.
None of us want to ignore our partners. Not one of us would choose Candy Crush over a family vacation or Snapchat over a romantic dinner. Yet, our phones consistently make the choices for us. We need to control our devices rather than allow them to control us.
The slow erosion of marriage
The slow erosion of marriage relationships has reached epidemic proportions. Researchers claim the current divorce rate sits at about 50 percent. John Gottman, in his book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, asks us, “How can you prevent a marriage from going bad – or rescue one that is already in trouble?” He states, “In the strongest marriages, husband and wife share a deep sense of meaning. They don’t just ‘get along’ – they also support each other’s hopes and aspirations and build a sense of purpose into their lives together.” In order to build each other’s hopes and aspirations, we need to know what they are. We find this information by talking with and listening to each other. We must hold real, face-to-face conversations. Gottman suggests building a deep friendship with “mutual respect for and enjoyment of each other’s company.”
Perhaps each of us could step back and take a good look at our own marriages. How much time do we spend on our phone while in the same room with our partner? How much time do we spend in talking and listening to each other? Do we go out on real dates? How often do we hold hands and laugh together? How often do we simply look into each other’s eyes and remember why we’re friends?
Jane looked up from her phone just in time to see a young man at the next table pull out a ring and propose to his beautiful girlfriend. The girl was ecstatic! With a huge smile on her face she took the ring and cried, “Yes!” She then pulled out her cell phone, took a selfie with the new ring, and proceeded to post her new relationship status on Facebook. The “Likes” and comments came pouring in. Jane looked to the young man and noticed the crestfallen look that had come across his face as he realized his new fiancé was completely consumed in her phone. Jane felt a stab at her heart and suddenly saw the stark reality of what was happening to her own marriage. She quietly picked up her phone, slipped it into her purse, and reached over to gently take Brad’s hand. This gesture surprised him but he followed her lead and put his phone in his pocket.
They held hands over the table, and as he watched the candlelight dance in her eyes, he smiled and whispered, “Hello.”
Miriam Jean Merrill is a student at Brigham Young University-Idaho studying Marriage and Family Studies with an emphasis in Family Advocacy & Policy. She is passionate about the family and also loves music and performing. She currently resides with her husband, Sam, and their boxer puppy, Captain Wellington.
Susan Liufau is a student at Brigham Young University-Idaho majoring in Marriage and Family Studies. She and her husband, Gordon, have been married for 30 years. They have six sons and four grandchildren.