One day last week while pouring a cup of coffee I became frustrated because the coffee wasn’t coming out of the carafe fast enough. (Yes, that really happened.) Now, you might say, “Eric, you’re wound too tight. You need a vacation.” (Well, that happened on vacation.) Can you relate? If not, let me ask about the traffic lights you encounter each day. Have you found yourself more impatient than usual? If neither of those strike a chord in your conscience, then what would your spouse say about how well you listen?
We find ourselves increasingly impatient with most things and most people. I don’t remember it always being this way. Have you begun to suspect the tool that has made our lives easier is also responsible for making them more difficult?
Positives aside—and there are many—would I be overstating my point if I said that cell phones have a corrosive impact on our relationships?
Have our cell phones not conditioned our expectations of others—and ourselves—well beyond what is reasonable? We want (or expect) instantaneous responses whether communication involves the phone or not.
Maybe you sent a text that you did not get a response to as soon as expected. (It used to be one had to call, leave a message, and expected to wait for a day or more to get a call back!) Who hasn’t tried to call someone and they didn’t answer? Annoyed, we are tempted to draw unkind and untrue conclusions about these people. “Why didn’t he pick up? I—KNOW—he has his phone with him!” “What’s wrong with him today?” “She doesn’t care about me!” Our cell phones have changed us more than we realize or want to admit.
We depend—daily—on our phones for so many functions. They are our constant companions that render us constantly available. Endless connection leaves us mentally drained and without good boundaries. It is hard to establish boundaries with something that is ever-present.
Being in constant contact subjects us to the tyranny of the urgent subverting priorities. We say yes to one interruption but feel guilty about saying no to another.
The way we communicate with each other is stressed. We text when we should call. And we call when a text would probably suffice. Texting (again, with all its benefits) still reduces the communication pie to its smallest third: the written word without the benefit of voice tone and body language. How many times have you spent ten minutes parsing a text because you didn’t know if the person was angry with you?
Do I serve the phone? Or, does the phone serve me? Are our phones helping or hindering our relationships? If you haven’t already, it’s time to take note and take action! Although I have threatened family and friends that I will go back to a land line, there are less draconian measures at our disposal. (If you have taken action then let the following ideas affirm you and strengthen your resolve.)
Set boundaries. One way we are doing this at my house is that we are trying to not bring our phones to the table when we eat a meal. It is amazing how hard this is. With the phone nearby, the moment the conversation gets uninteresting, people zone out and instinctively start scrolling. Keeping the phone away from the table can help reestablish communication habits that are other-centered.
Another boundary idea is to put your phone away when you know you need to focus on a person or project. Sometimes, I silence my phone, put it in my clothes closet under a pile of shirts and close the two doors between the closet and my office in order to establish a boundary.
Cut yourself some slack. You are a finite being. God did not create you to be omni-anything. You put your pants on one leg at a time. You are fallible. You have only two ears and one mouth. Yes, God gave you ten fingers on two hands but the polar ice caps won’t melt if you keep texting with only one finger.
Cut others slack. The corollary to cutting ourselves slack is cutting others slack. Don’t expect people to respond immediately. If you really do need a quick answer: just call! Remember to think the best and to not assume the worst about why they responded the way they did or about why they might not have responded at all. The Golden Rule applies!
Being mindful of the impact our cell phones are having on our relationships is important. Our relationships are the ground in which we plant and water seeds of the gospel. To that end our cell phones can be great servants but they are awful masters. Truth is, our cell phones are changing us in bad ways. Don’t let them corrode your relationships.