Cell Phones – Helping or hurting our relationships?

Today we live in a world of instant communication. It’s marvelous to think that I can post an update to facebook, on my android phone, while checking out at the grocery store, and it could be read by millions of people all around the world in seconds!

(C’mon Brian…you mean it could be read by dozens three people who live down the road from you)

Hey now…just because I don’t have the facebook following that Leo Babauta does, doesn’t mean people don’t care about the awesome deal I scored on fresh arugula at the market!

(Fresh arugula? I don’t even think those three neighbors will be your facebook friends after this…)

But they say everyone might have to be vegetarian by 2050??…..Ah…you might be right. Point taken.

Cell phones, email, and social networking were supposed to make it easier to communicate with one another but why does it seem like it is actually making personal conversations worse?

I am guilty of it. I might even make the top 100 list. Out to dinner with my wife and some friends and my phone vibrates…Oh, an email from Dave…oh let me respond real quick. Oh I have ten twitter updates, I wonder whats going on..it will only take a moment. Eight new status updates on facebook!? I’ve GOT to check those out!

Before I know it five minutes has past and I missed an entire conversation. The wife is giving me the “Your going to sleep on the couch tonight for embarrassing me” look.

It’s like second nature to most of us these days. We are not being present with others, we are being rude. Then when we try to have a personal conversation we find it hard to talk in full sentences or for extended periods of time.

The more ‘connected’ we become electronically, the less connected we become physically. 

I was reading “10 Simple Steps to Make the Most Out of Every Day” by Joshua Becker of ‘Becoming Minimalist’ and one of his points really stood out to me.

  • Be present with others. Put away distractions. Engage in conversation. Ask questions. Give time for answers. And look people in the eye when you do. Their eyes reveal far more than their words.

I took a moment to do some social reflection on this:

Be present with others. How often are we truly present when out with friends? Every where you look people are talking on their cell phones, sending text messages, or updating their ‘hot or not‘ profile.

(Hot or Not? Really? Nobody has used that site since 1998…)

Um….yeah…you’re right….I ummm never go on there…. :-/

Put away distractions: While talking with my friend Mike, he told me about an observation paper he had recently written for his P.H.D. program. He visited the local P.F. Changs and asked for a corner table. From his table he spent the next hour just observing the crowd and how they interacted with one another. By his count, 65% of the dinners who were eating with one or more people, were observed also using their phones while having dinner. 65% of the people were in essence saying that, while I’m here with you, your really not as important as whatever I”m doing on this phone.

Engage in the conversation: I have been in plenty of conversations where I am there physically but mentally I have been checked out by the fifth word. This is usually the case when my boss calls a meeting to discuss planning another meeting or talk about our last meeting (I swear 90% of office meetings are spent talking about other meetings)  or my wife (the other boss) is giving me a list of tasks it would be wise for me to do. ie dishes, laundry, cook dinner (just kidding…I am ALWAYS engaged when my wife is talking with me!! :-p )

Look people in the eye when talking: I have noticed that people are hesitant to look people in the eyes these days. No matter if it is in a conversation or just walking down the street. I am aware that in some countries it is actually disrespectful to look someone in the eyes but this is not the case here in the United States. It is a sign of respect and shows that you are actively listening and allows you to ‘hear’ what they are saying. Not just with their words but with their expressions. In this research paper, and just about any other psychology study, you will find that studies show 93% of our communication is non-verbal and only 7% is the actual words we say. While speaking/listening to someone speak, you will understand each other best by looking one another in the eye while conversing.

As I mentioned, I am just as guilty as anyone of doing this. Checking sports scores, updating status, or texting, but I have come up with some simple tips to help us break the habbits and help strengthen our relationships and truly be present:

  1. Make a schedule for checking messages. 8:00am, 12:00pm, & 6:00pm. This will not only help us break away from our electronic leashes but will also allow us to be more productive by removing the constant interruptions throughout the day.
  2. When out to dinner with friends or family, use this time to have fun with your phones. Not by talking and playing on them but instead do the following:
  3. As soon as you get your table, let your party members know that you want everyone to be present for dinner so this means no cell phones. Have everyone stack their phones in the center of the table and whomever touches their phone first must buy a round of drinks (an appetizer would work as well)
  4. Instead of killing time on your phone while waiting in line or at the coffee shop, why not take this opportunity to network. Make it a point every day to say hello to five strangers and try to strike up a conversation with one of them. You will be amazed at how good this makes you feel and who you might actually meet while doing this!

So what do you think? Are cell phones hurting our relationships with one another? Do you have any stories of someone (or yourself) who was typing away on their phone instead of being present in a conversation? Tell us about it in the comment section below!

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