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."