We are a society of extreme multitaskers. In an attempt to simplify our lives, we have cell phones that can all but realign satellites. While operating these futuristic devices, we attempt to drive our cars, attend our children’s soccer games, and have a date night with our spouse. But are we truly engaged in life? Just what are we missing by never giving any one moment our full attention?
A few years ago, I asked my teenage Sunday School students this question: If you were given the option of turning in your cell phone forever in exchange for the third world country of your choice to receive food, education, health care, religious freedom, and political justice for the next 200 years — would you give up your cell phone?
And the response: NO. Terrifying, eh?
Before you start to think that my Sunday School teens are the only ones, perhaps you should check out the stats. Here are some quick (and scary) facts that are not just limited to teens:
- 46% of teens admit to text while driving
- 56% of teens admit to talking on their cell phones while driving
- Almost 70% of American users send at least 1 text message every single day
- A majority (57%) of teens view their cell phone as the key to their social life
- There are more than 1 billion text messages sent each day
- 42% of teens say they can text blindfolded
- 48% of young Americans from 12-17 say they’ve been in a car while the driver was texting
- Talking on a cell phone causes nearly 25% of car accidents
- One-fifth of experienced adult drivers in the United States send text messages while driving
- Texting while driving is about 6 times more likely to result in an accident than driving while intoxicated
Teens are not the only ones.
My husband and I purchased our very first smartphones in the fall of 2010. Our old cell phones could no longer be updated, their adapters were no longer manufactured, they were incapable of sending/receiving text messages, and they were defeating their purpose by failing to work most of the time. We swallowed our pride and signed for a data package.
The new phones soon cast their spell upon us. We marveled at their built in navigation features and the quality of their photos (and video!). Suddenly, we could access email, Facebook, and the internet from any location. We felt very social and connected, indeed. I remember getting frustrated when someone would call me. I thought, “Sheesh, can’t they just text instead?” I should have pumped the brakes and immediately recognized how convoluted it was to be irritated by human contact, to bristle at a simple act of friendship. But I didn’t. When Josh and I would go out to dinner, we played on our phones while waiting for our food to arrive and only spoke to confirm that one of us had checked us into the restaurant on Facebook or to see what Yelp reviews suggested that we order from the menu.
Once, I planned a dinner party for a fellow military family. I cleaned the house top to bottom, sent them a message on Facebook to confirm the time I planned to serve the meal, and went to work preparing a huge spread of food after updating my status to reflect my excitement, being sure to tag them in the post. When they didn’t appear at the agreed-upon hour, I was a little concerned. I logged onto Facebook and noted that they’d read my message within the past few hours. Forty-five minutes later, I was ill with worry. Were they okay? Had something happened to one of the children? I picked up my phone to text them. My phone vibrated in my palm alerting me to an update on Facebook. What did I see in my notifications? A check-in by my dinner guests. They checked in at a craft class which was forty-five minutes from my house. Josh phoned them several times before they finally called back. I stood in my kitchen with tears streaming and listened to his side of the conversation through the dining room wall:
Josh: “No… look, she made all this food for your family. Appetizers, dessert, the works.”
Silence and then the muffled Charlie-Brown-teacher wahwahwahwah.
Josh: “Well, it’s already on the table and the table is set.” He hung up.
Josh explained that they totally forgot about the dinner and didn’t see my message but would come over soon. I kept looking at the time that Facebook said they’d read my message, the check-in, and my dining room table loaded with food while feeling rejected and betrayed.
Then my phone buzzed. I grabbed it in hopes of an apology text or at least an explanation other than “I forgot about you.” The person just posted a picture of their completed craft to their wall and the “likes” were pouring in.
Some of the family ended up coming over an hour later and the kids were delighted with their little gifts. They’d already eaten so they politely picked at the food on their plates. It was a sad little affair, truth be told. In many ways, it was my very first realization that sometimes it’s better not to know all the details. Sometimes we are better off not having irrefutable proof that someone lied to us or that we meant so little to them.
It is truly amazing that we can share an article we enjoyed reading or a picture that made us laugh instantly and with people all over the planet. No one can deny that all those positive reviews and check-ins are great for building business. This website enjoyed quite a number of hits thanks to Pinterest, Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for the exposure because every blogger enjoys reading comments and knowing that their hours of work are not going unnoticed. I love that I can feel part of my sister’s life through status updates and wall pictures even though she lives in Australia. However, I miss her blog. I miss the comfort I found in hearing her voice in my head while I read her eloquent posts.
Facebook soon replaced blogs in my life, too. Blogging requires far more effort than other forms of social networking and I became lazy. It was SO much easier to post things to my wall than to sit down, sort & upload photos, and organize my thoughts into blog posts. At first, my Fb wall posts were all very positive and centered around the causes dearest to my heart: sustainability, boycotting factory farms, animal rescues, building community, etc. and reflected this website in tone and quality. Then, gradually, my posts became negative. I argued with people in comment sections, passionately debated politics, and linked to articles to prove my point. My frustration with the government, media, and community grew to the point that I began to feel very frustrated and lonely.
What happened? How did an instrument designed to connect us become so divisive? How did we get to a point where these devices were more important to us than the feelings and well-being of the people they supposedly united us with? In sharing the simple details of our lives with others through status updates, tweets, and feeds, shouldn’t we strengthen our compassion for one another? So, we return to the question I asked my students with some slight changes:
If you were given the option of never using Facebook, Twitter, and Smartphone technology again in exchange for the country of your choice to receive food, education, health care, religious freedom, and political justice for the next 200 years — would you do it?
Well, would you?