A restaurant on a Friday night can be a happening place. Friends are meeting up, families are spending time together, and people are hanging out. That was the general feel of the restaurant I recently found myself at…except for one table that stood out to me.
A mom and her teenage daughter sat down at the table right near mine. However, instead of engaging in conversation, they immediately got on their phones. They began staring and scrolling. Eventually, the dad and son joined the table, but unfortunately not much changed. There was a little bit of conversation exchanged—but mostly, everyone was either staring at a phone screen or a nearby TV screen. Even when it appeared one person might be ready to converse, no one was there to interact with. I mean, there were people “there,” but no one was really there.
It was a sad sight.
And yet, most of us–including myself—have been guilty of giving full attention to our screens to the detriment of the people around us.
We often lament the current teenage addiction to technology, but I can’t help but think us adults are just as bad. Sometimes we might be worse–almost as if we are making up for lost time (having not had these devices as kids).
Some of us turn on our phones and start scanning, scrolling, reading (or whatever it is we do) without even thinking about it. And sadly, it doesn’t just happen in between tasks. It happens when we are face to face with the people we should be spending time with.
Despite their glaring problems, phones are wonderful tools. They are even great at helping us connect better to the people in our lives. Trouble ensues, however, when our tools have more mastery over us than we have over them. Like Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:12, we should “not be dominated by anything.” Paul had the fight for sexual purity in mind in that passage, but the principle certainly applies.
Consider whether you find yourself trading in “in person” interaction for phone time. Click To Tweet If you can picture yourself becoming sucked into your screen far too easily (or too often), it might be time you admit you’re a tad bit addicted. As dramatic as that diagnosis might sound, the solution can be simple.
Resolving This Problematic Predicament
One solution to phone-distractedness comes by merely recognizing how detrimental this problem is. It’s powerful to see the situation from the outside.
When you are at a restaurant, look around. Very likely you will see a handful of people who are choosing to “check out” during moments they could be relationally investing. The sight itself may cause you to think twice before pulling out your phone.
Ever since seeing that family at the restaurant, I have been cautious about my phone over-usage. I saw what it looked like to get sucked into the land of who-knows-where while the people you love get ignored. I saw time slipping by, with precious moments stolen and nothing to show for it. And honestly, I saw what looked like selfishness. Everyone was just engaging in whatever phone activity they felt like, with no regard for who was around. I saw the opposite of the others-mindedness we are commanded to have in Philippians 2:3-4:
3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
If we are not careful, our phones can rob us of the opportunity to look out for the interest of others. Simply recognizing that this is not what we want, and yet it’s the selfishness our phones could provoke, might change some of our habits.
Beyond that, we need to pray. We should ask God to help us notice moments when we are choosing to love our phones (ourselves, more accurately) more than we love the people we’re with.
If we did those 2 things: recognized the ugliness of the problem, and asked God to help us focus more on others — this problem might dissolve. Boundaries may also be helpful (such as determining to only check your phone for time-sensitive information). Whatever you need to do, I hope you see it’s worth it!
Don’t Stop Using Your Phone
Phones are truly fabulous mechanisms and are useful for so many good purposes— for reading the Bible, for prayer, for keeping in touch, for being organized, for being productive, for loving and investing into people, and even for enjoying downtime. So don’t get me wrong; We should use our phones, and utilize them for all they are worth!
The problem at hand is the tendency to disengage with our world, either out of selfishness or out of habit. There may even be 100 other issues related to a phone addiction — but for today, the question is, do we choose our phone over loving people? Do we forsake the second greatest commandment (Matthew 22:39) on the altar of “checking out,” surfing the web, checking Instagram, etc.
So let’s use our phones, but let’s not be “dominated” by them.
Let’s instead be dominated by a passion to use our time, interactions, and even our phones for the glory of God and the good of others.
A Necessary Side Note:
This is a topic that quickly brings to mind how other people fall short. But don’t be too quick to point the finger. For one, we all have our own issues to work on (whether it be phone distractedness or not). Second, the timing of other people’s phone usage doesn’t make sense to critique. We have no idea what kind of quality time people have already spent together, and we have no idea what they are doing on their phone.
In fact, that family I initially described may have just spent 4 hours together conversing and laughing over a game of Monopoly! Moreover, they may have been memorizing Scripture on their phones. They didn’t give that vibe, but still, it’s possible. The only reason it is even appropriate to bring up their example is the fact that they stand for a struggle we can all fall into (and perhaps they are actually exempt from).
The goal, of course, is to reflect on our own habits. The goal is not to assume everyone who is using their phone is selfish and addicted! Very likely, that is not the case.
We are all learning how to navigate these wonderfully powerful tools in the best way possible; So let’s focus on improvements we need to make without picking apart anyone else. And if people around us are struggling, perhaps they will be encouraged by how we thoughtfully use our phones, and never to the detriment of our relationships. Let’s lead the way!