by Andi

Mom and Dad have smartphones. Kids have smartphones. And for some reason, they’re always there, around, involved with everything you do. They’re in your hand, your pocket, your purse, and on the table in front of you. In the middle of a face-to-face conversation, your smartphone calls. Your response is immediate. It goes to dinner with you, demands your attention at red lights and stop signs, goes to the bathroom, and to bed with you. You are always on call, always waiting for the notification, or the dead space when you can get back to the oh so gratifying, infinite possibilities your smartphone has to offer.

The smartphone has interfered with how humans communicate, in a major way. I’m not saying it’s all bad, but it’s not all good.

A Brief History of Human Communications

Over the last 200 years, communication between humans went from face-to-face or having to handwrite and send a physical letter, to the telegraph, the telephone, and the cell phone. The past 20 years has brought a new form of communication known as the text and changed our lives again.

Like the text message, emails and instant messaging soon became mainstream and made communicating quick and void of unnecessary disruptions to our day. Now you could say exactly what you wanted to say and in the exact perfect way. It was no longer necessary to have uncomfortable confrontations. Notifying friends and family of events was suddenly super easy and came with the convenience of proof, even if the recipient didn’t remember being notified. You could no longer say, “You never told me that!” It was a more efficient way of communication. Less time was wasted. And there was no longer a necessity that you sit on the phone for hours with your mother-in-law when you could just send a text, email or instant message via the internet. 

The distance between friends and family had begun to grow. This would continue into the unforeseeable future.

The advent of social media introduced the ability to utilize even more indirect forms of communication. We now have the ability to let everyone know the same piece of information at the same time, without ever having to speak directly to anyone.

Social Media

Myspace came along and suddenly you had an online profile. Pages were personal and had descriptions titled about me and who I’d like to meet as well as a section outlining personal interests. Your page showed everyone how many ‘friends’ you had as well as who they were, and even encouraged you to segregate them into top friends, or favorites.

This was the first widely used platform where people were sharing personal information including photos, videos, and personal opinions. All of your friends could see your posts and like or make comments. But there was no implication that you were obligated to respond, and sometimes, for no reason at all, you didn’t. Thanking someone for a compliment was no longer common courtesy. You could pretend you didn’t see or notice something making it official that you had better things to do. But it sure did make you feel good to see all those likes and comments, especially if it was more than everyone else.

Myspace single-handedly made it possible for people to hurt feelings on purpose while pretending not to. 

Welcome to the fake world where everyone pedals a marketing campaign in hopes to get the most friends, likes, comments (compliments). And it’s family against family here. 

Then came the Facebook ‘wall,’ in recent years called the ‘timeline.’ Wanna know what’s going on with someone? Check their facebook timeline for a status update. Stalk their photos and “check-ins,” see what they are doing that they didn’t invite you to do. Thanks to the ability to literally be in everybody’s business and sit in judgment, here came the passive aggressive announcements in the form of a Facebook status. Someone, no mention of who because whoever it is “knows who they are,” wronged you, or is a jerk or did some other terrible thing. Bravery had reached new heights. All of the sudden it was ok to say everything you always wanted to say but couldn’t due to a fear of confrontation. And hey, let’s make sure everyone knows. It’s time to air some dirty laundry!

Facebook’s indirect form of communication has made hurting someone’s feelings, “calling them out,” and even embarrassing someone with words more of a reality than it has ever been in the history of humanity. All done in a way that made things clear to everyone but the person the message was intended for. People feel empowered with their newfound courage. And the audience offering their irrelevant two cents is just adding fuel to the fire. 

Making “Friends” In The Era Of The Smartphone

Social media is just a miracle when it comes to addressing the struggle real people face when trying to make friends. Not only are you now “friends” with every single high school classmate you’ve ever had, you’re suddenly friends with everyone who graduated within a five-year period of you, even the ones you hated and/or never knew or said a word to. 500-5000 friends? That’s amazing. Congratulations.

Further evolving the definition of friendship and playing into how special we feel when receiving a friend request, there are the hundred or so “friends” that we not only don’t actually know, we’re not sure where they came from or why the wanted to be “friends” in the first place. But we keep them on our friend list because more is better, right?

On Instagram, it’s about how many followers and likes on photos, the majority of which indicate an obsession with oneself. On Twitter, follows, likes and retweets are collected up like points in a popularity contest. And follows are not automatically reciprocated. You have to be really special to get a follow back. These two have made it possible for otherwise ordinary people to feel like they actually have fans

If any of this BS takes up even a minute of time when you’re in the actual presence of family or friends, isn’t that too much? What message are you giving to the people right in front you? How have you prioritized your relationships?

Dating In The Era Of The Smartphone

Never in the history of humanity has it been so easy to ‘meet people,’ in an attempt to date or find a spouse. This is great, right? Not exactly. First of all, you’re not actually meeting anyone when you find them online. Second, there is the extreme possibility that whoever it is you’re meeting has misrepresented themselves in some way. That’s right, the use of the internet and social media apps to ‘meet people’ has made it possible to form entirely false identities and relationships tied to them. 

To each their own when it comes to dating apps and single people, but when they are starting to be used by kids, that’s a problem. Obviously, I believe this is an issue that falls into the category of parenting. There may be absolutely no way you can keep your teen from accessing one of these apps/websites. No level of parenting will be perfect, nor will any level of attempting to shield your child from every danger in life. But the ability for a teen to utilize online dating through use of an app is a red flag.

There are thousands of apps encouraging human virtual interaction. Creating friendships and dating is almost effortless. The market for convenience has literally exploded. Unfortunately, convenience isn’t the only consideration being made in the very consistent influx of new ideas.

There is now and has been for quite some time, a very legitimate consideration being made for those who want to live secret second lives. This is the other problem. Married people dating. With websites and apps promising that you’ll find whatever your life is missing, enlisting nearly perfect marketing campaigns aimed at those who lean towards sneaking around rather than fixing what they already have, it’s easy to deceive and even accept that it’s acceptable to do so. 

Ashley Madison, a dating website, claims they are for everyone. “Our members are single, attached and seeking an affair partner, or attached and seeking something polyamorous.” 

I don’t believe in limiting or banning things that may cause us, as humans, to destroy our own lives. After all, we do have free will, and I believe that we have the right to make decisions for ourselves. But the choices people are making are leading to one of two thigs. Destruction of families or of just one’s own psyche. And of course, the demand for more. More apps, more websites, and more ways to deceive. Supply and demand are hard at work here.

Parents Lead. Children Follow.

Flys on walls inside of standard American households are seeing the saddest of images. Mom stands in the kitchen, eyes glued to a smartphone. Dad sits in the family room, TV on, staring blankly into his. Kids strewn on couches and on the floor, playing games on smartphones, checking social media, texting. It could be an hour, maybe two, and no words are exchanged between the real, live, actual humans. 

The most important relationships appear to be between oneself and whatever is inside that phone. Eyeballs glued, even glazed over, search for something, anything stimulating, something that makes you feel good about yourself. The disconnect the phone has created, the divide between people continues to grow bigger. 

Excuses. They’re Not All Bad.

I’m looking up a recipe. I’m reading the news. I’m checking for an important email from work. I’m texting mom to let her know not to forget toothpaste. I’m watching the game. 

Or I’m looking to see if anyone liked my photo, status, video, etc… 

I’m not here to tell you what to do. 

I’m not saying the smartphone is evil. And I’m not saying we shouldn’t use them or even that we shouldn’t use social media. I have an iPhone. My husband has an iPhone. My minor children do not have smartphones. I have social media accounts. My minor children do not. It is important to me that I not place my phone or social media between me and my family. 

In my family, there is a time and a place when/where smartphone/smart device usage is ok/acceptable. It will never be when we are all sitting in the same room together. Smartphones will never be acceptable inclusions when we are out to dinner.

But there are exceptions to every rule.

I love that if my kid says something hilarious I can post it on facebook. I love that I can quickly catch something on photo or video that I know I will appreciate remembering and sharing later in life. Smartphones have changed the way we are able to capture memories and include the use of social media. I love that I can text family and friends whenever I want. I’m an introvert, so this feature has actually made my life exponentially more social since I don’t love to talk on the phone or “socialize” on a regular basis. I love that we can video call people, especially kids. I’ll admit I do love the convenience factor that the smartphone has brought about.

But, over the past ten years, the presence of the smartphone has created an entirely new family dynamic. The smartphone has supplemented the day, creating an easy-out for times when you feel bored with your environment. Boredom is no longer acceptable for children and parents have that instantly gratifying phone or tablet to hand to their toddlers, big kids, and teens. Rather than having conversations about our days, we say nothing and look to our smartphones for something else… 

This Is An Emergency

What does it mean to do something as a family in a time of over-emphasized superficial self-importance? Dinner time that includes smartphones defeats the purpose of eating together. Everyone sitting in the same room all staring into smartphones is a sad picture of some people who will probably end up pretty lonely after a lifetime of ignoring what’s right in front of you.

The competition for attention via friend requests, followers, and likes is taking over. Think about how many times you look at your phone in a typical day. People actually panic when they don’t know where their phones are. Do you have kids with smartphones? How often to they look at theirs? What’s acceptable? Is there a time during the day where your phone is away from you for more than a few minutes? How do you address appropriate smartphone usage in your house?

I won’t deny loving the convenience and even the entertainment value of the smartphone. But to me, it’s obvious that as is the case with so many things in life, too much causes more harm than good. And when it comes to the malicious use of the smartphone, developers have definitely found a niche market to manipulate, control and profit off of, and that is another danger to be aware of.

Does the usage of smartphones, tablets or internet, in general, affect your family in a negative way? How do you address appropriate smartphone, tablet, internet usage in your house?


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