They were doing it again. Tapping away on their precious little phones.
Normally, this wouldn’t bother me, but this wasn’t a boring lecture or the grocery store line. This was Sarah’s 22nd birthday party and more than half of her guests—our friends—were sitting on the couch playing with their smartphones.
Sarah and I tried to start a game of Catch Phrase, but their phones kept distracting them. However, as soon as we brought out the cake, we captured their full attention. They all broke into “Happy Birthday” and energetically snapped photos. Unfortunately, their focus was short-lived. They disappeared into Facebookland again, more interested in posting pictures of Sarah blowing out her candles than eating delicious chocolate cake.
That’s the only word that could accurately describe my feelings at that moment—and not just because I’m a chocoholic. I simply couldn’t believe my eyes.
What has happened to us? Why do we value updating our Facebook friends more than spending time with our real friends?
Is Technology Interrupting Your Friendships?
Perhaps you’re irritated because your friend has mastered the technique of texting while making eye contact with you. Or perhaps you’ve found the most effective way to get your friend’s attention is by texting him from across the room. It’s strange that we can feel disconnected from our friends when we have so many gadgets to promote “connectivity.”
Texting, Facebook, Twitter, email, and smartphones—they’re all here to stay. The only question left is: How will we allow them to influence us? Will we allow technology to create a rift in our relationships?
Here are five practical ideas on how to keep your technology habits from damaging your friendships:
1. Communicate Carefully
The Bible speaks of the blessing of the right word at the right time (Proverbs 25:11). In face-to-face conversation, body language, eye contact, and tone of voice work together to communicate a message. In fact, some experts claim that 93 percent of our communication is nonverbal. When we say something with our fingers instead of our physical presence we sacrifice all those nonverbal aspects of communication and lose a big chunk of the message.
For that reason, a text or email can easily take on a different meaning than we intended, which could create huge (and unnecessary) drama. So, refrain from pushing “Send” for serious or emotional communications. Instead, conduct those conversations in-person.
An acquaintance of mine had a series of serious “discussions” with her best friend via Facebook and text. They never once sat down and discussed their issues face-to-face—or even on the phone. Instead, they wrote harsh messages back and forth and eventually their ten-year friendship crumbled to pieces.
I asked her, “Why didn’t you ever call her?”
Her response: “Because she never called me.”
Our pride often keeps us from initiating. We think, “I’m tired of this. I always call her. I’ll just wait for her to take the first step this time.” Be careful to not get caught up in pride’s trap. Remember, God gives grace to the humble, not to the proud (1 Peter 5:5). For the sake of our friendships, we should be willing to put down our pride and pick up the phone—or our car keys.
Hebrews 12:14 reminds us to live peaceful and holy lives. As God’s children we need to take responsibility to cultivate peaceful relationships. This means kicking dysfunctional habits, humbling ourselves, and choosing voice-to-voice, or preferably face-to-face, communication. It may take more time and effort, but your friendships—and God’s glory—are definitely worth it.
3. Use the Off Button
You may be itching to check your phone every two minutes, but do you need to? Are you waiting for a call from the President? Although we’re not usually expecting anyone in particular to contact us, we feel compelled to pull out our phones and stare at the screen. We dash to our phone whenever it makes the slightest beep or vibration. But that constant “checking” of our phones places us in a perpetual state of distraction.
It also makes people feel unimportant.
The Bible speaks of the importance of nurturing relationships. It says to meet together and encourage one another (Hebrews 10:25), not “meet with each other and play on your iPhones.”
When you’re with your friend, don’t be with your phone. Be daring—turn it off! When you unplug from your phone, you’re telling him or her, “You’re more important than anyone who may be trying to contact me right now. I value spending time with you. I appreciate this opportunity to deepen our friendship. I am removing all distractions because I want to focus on you.”
So, if you want to make your friend feel valued, ditch your electronics on your next outing.
4. Re-Learn the Art of Conversation
Teenagers today actually say, “Texting is better than talking.” But is it? Can electronic communication substitute in-person interaction?
Don’t you feel special when someone takes the time to call and say, “Happy Birthday!” instead of sending you a text? If you’re in the hospital, wouldn’t you prefer a visit from your friend over a get well post on your Facebook wall?
We need to value and nurture real conversations. Texting smiley faces and LOLs back and forth might be fun, but they won’t add much depth to your friendship. So, engage in real-time conversations—even if they require some effort on your part.
Make the most of every opportunity (Colossians 4:5). Talk to your unsaved friend about the things of God. Listen to your brother describe the funny things that happened at his work. Learn to appreciate your great grandma talking about her farm for the hundredth time. Enjoy the chance you have to invest in the lives of others through meaningful conversation.
5. Take Back Your Time
Friendships require time. But, you might say, “I don’t have time right now to call my friend or grab coffee. My life is just way too busy.” I know I often say this. But then I ask myself: How many hours do I spend scrolling through my email, surfing the web, watching funny YouTube videos, or perusing my Facebook friends’ pictures?
I recently read that the average 18-24 year old spends about 4.5 hours online a day; that is 20-30 hours per week.[i] Most of us have plenty of time; we just don’t use it wisely. Our gadgets are supposed to simplify our lives and help us get things done quicker, so let’s use them for that purpose! Let’s control our use of media instead of letting it control us. This requires intentionality and self-discipline.
Often I say I am “just going to check my email” and then I find myself on a two-hour Internet expedition. Now I’ve learned to give myself a time limit. Creating boundaries for blogging, Facebook, email, and Internet surfing has given me more hours in my day—more time to spend cultivating friendships (and eating chocolate cake!).
I encourage you to create your own technology boundaries and redeem your techland time for real relationship time.
[i] Linda Crane. “Trends & Tudes: YouthPulse 2010,” Harris Interactive, November 2010. Accessed at Harrisinteractive.com