Are You Married to Media?

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You’re driving down a city street and find yourself stuck behind someone going 15 mph below the speed limit. What’s your first thought? That guy needs to get off his cell phone!You’re sitting in the stands at a high school football game. You notice that many of the students are not only ignoring the game but they’re also ignoring the friends seated beside them — instead they are busy texting other friends. You walk through an airport concourse and notice a man pacing back and forth, waving his hands while he talks on his cell phone in a voice that bounces off the walls 30 yards away. You think, That’s why I hope they never allow people to make calls with their cell phones on a flight.

Sound familiar? In the last 15 years the cell phone has conquered the world. I could make a list of 50 ways these phones have improved our lives. But if you’re like me and can remember what life was like before we all got cell phones, you may wonder if all the changes are really for the good.

Remember those days when you could go to a movie — or to church — and not worry about being distracted by ringing phones or by the white glow of someone texting a friend? Remember when meetings at work weren’t interrupted by phone calls that people just had to accept?

And here’s one more scene we all see regularly: You walk into a restaurant and you notice a couple seated near you. And you notice that they really are not enjoying this opportunity to be together, because one is patiently waiting for the other to stop talking or texting on the cell phone. And you think, How sad that they aren’t talking to each other.

Plugged in 24/7

Adjusting to a new technology is nothing new. Electricity, automobiles, telephones, radio, television, computers, and many other new inventions sparked significant changes in our culture and in the way we related to our spouses, our children, and our friends. But the pace of change since 1995 has been breathtaking. We’ve seen the emergence of the internet and of mobile phones, and then the convergence of the two. We can now be plugged in wherever we are, 24/7.

The technology is evolving so quickly that most of us are barely aware of how our behavior is changing and our relationships are affected. As one reader wrote after I addressed this issue a couple months ago in a series of Marriage Memo e-mails, “These mobile devices can take over your life.” Another said, “I understand technology has its advantages, but we are being ruled by the technology rather than using it as a tool.”

A number of readers were dismayed at how addiction to the new technology was affecting their marriages. For example:

  • “I’m usually the spouse waiting for my husband to get off the cell, iPad,  instagram, text messaging, Facebook, or some other game that has him hooked.  I’m tired of having my conversations through text messages and would enjoy  an old-fashioned conversation face-to-face. But the truth is we barely have  anything to say to each other anymore.”
  • “My husband and I have struggled for the last 25 years of our marriage with  conversation, but what has happened now is Facebook has taken over.  If dinner isn’t ready when he comes home, he’s on Facebook until it is.  Every morning he gets up and hits Facebook to see who’s been on. Sadly  he does not see it as an issue. And I fear I am not alone in this.
  • “I am one of those people at the restaurant with her spouse, waiting and  feeling lonely. My husband is always looking at his phone, checking his email  or his bank account, his Facebook, and his texts. I just sit waiting and thinking  to myself, ”˜Why am I not good enough for him? Why does he have to be entertained  by everyone and everything else?’ It deeply depresses me and he just cannot  understand my point of view.”

Replacing conversation with connectivity

Some people gravitate toward texting or Twitter for communication just as they did years ago toward email — it’s simpler, faster, easier. What they don’t realize is how much is lost in those mediums — emotion, facial expressions, tone of voice, and much more. It can be dangerous to replace conversation with connectivity.

One woman wrote about problems in her marriage: “… many arguments occur because of something that was texted and was misunderstood by one of us. Today my husband texted me after refusing to have a conversation last night. I thought the tone of his text was ugly and didn’t respond. Later he texted me asking why I didn’t respond and I said I would rather talk than text because texting can be misunderstood. His response was ”˜I enjoy texting. Speak message. Little emotion. Can get right to point.’”

What a classic quote, and so typically male: “I enjoy texting. Speak message. Little emotion. Can get right to point.” The problem is that real relationships require real conversation and real emotion.

“When we text, email, Facebook, and the like, we lose a vital piece of relationships: the emotional connection,” wrote another reader. “Without the sound of our voices, the body language, the touch, we as humans lose what God intended to be a vital part of how we are supposed to relate and a vital part of how we are supposed to receive love and be in communion with others.”

Get more — Free! e-book — Les & Leslie Parrott's, The Good Fight

Household rules

It’s not that the technology is inherently bad. Far from it — it helps us connect with people in many positive ways. The problem is that so many people are unable to control it. It’s as if they are married to their cell phones.

I received some great tips from readers about the boundaries they were implementing to promote face-to-face communication in their marriages. Here are some highlights:

1. No devices at the dinner table. This was mentioned many times in emails. Dinner time should be reserved for face-to-face conversation. There will be plenty of time after dinner to reply to phone calls and text messages.

One family calls this rule “TTT — Timeout from Technology at the Table.”

2. No phones at the restaurant. “My husband and I have made a deal for date nights,” wrote one wife. “He is way too plugged in to TV and his phone. Therefore when we are out at restaurants we are not allowed to use our phones unless it is a call from the babysitter. Also we do not go to restaurants that have televisions because he will be too distracted, and I will be mad that he is not totally engaged. We all need to find time daily to disconnect from all the information and reconnect with our families with good ”˜old-fashioned’ conversation.”

Another reader said she and her husband leave their cell phones in the car before they enter a restaurant.

3. No texting or talking about really important personal issues over the phone. This should be done face-to-face, unless it is something that can’t wait. One reader said, “There is a huge gap in a ‘conversation’ when texting because you don’t really fully understand what that person really means unless you hear the tone in their voice or see their face and a lot can be taken the wrong way, creating bad feelings, etc.”

Love the one you’re with

All these boundaries establish a strong family value: When you’re with someone, that relationship is your priority. Retraining will take some time if you, your spouse, or your children have become addicted to your devices. But keeping them in their rightful place will, in the words of one reader, “open up the door to more intimate communication with your spouse and family.”

I also liked the comment from a reader who pointed out, “Anything that becomes a necessity has the ability to become an idol.” In other words, you can become so attached to your smartphone that it basically becomes the most important thing in your life: “If you can’t live without a gadget … throw it away. If a gadget is absorbing most of your leisure time … throw it away!

“Life is too short. Let’s not invest what little time we have in meaningless endeavors.”

Copyright © 2012 by FamilyLife, a ministry of Campus Crusade (the name of Campus Crusade for Christ in the U.S.), www.familylife.com. Used with permission.

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