Smartphones and Social Media vs. Real Human Contact

LDS Media Library

Over the last few years, I’ve had a bit of a falling out with social media, and lately, I have been wrestling with the emotions I experience with any form of virtual interaction. There’s a taint of artificiality. The delay between messages. Feeling compelled to respond in a certain way. I wrestled with the all too common topics, which can be rather negative; and portrayals, which can be flattering but disingenuous. I also am on my guard about privacy and safety.

I’m also giving too much attention to my smartphone. I read “Love Interruptus” in the August 2016 issue of Psychology Today about how one husband called his wife’s smartphone her “other husband,” and about technoference, the “everyday intrusions or interruptions in couple interactions . . . that occur due to technology.” All this has gotten me thinking.

I am not saying this is the experience everyone is having with social media, or that it’s inherently bad. It isn’t. But I am sensitive to even low doses of negativity, and I tend to shield my spirit from its toxic effects. I also value attention given without distraction. I greatly value it.

After a moment of visual revulsion on Instagram this summer, and considering my tendency toward electronic “doodling,”  I took a five-week break from social media (except one work-related Facebook group) so I could get some clear perspective on what I have been feeling. I don’t want to totally give up on my smartphone or social media; I just don’t want it to take so much real estate in my brain, or to distract me from what’s more important.

One thing that’s important is giving people around me the honor, respect, and attention they deserve. Exquisite, thoughtful respect is what they deserve. That respectful attention is Christlike love in action, and I’m not giving enough of it, or allowing myself to receive enough of it.

So I’ve made a decision to turn off my smartphone and keep it out of sight from other people, as much as possible. To leave it in the car when I go into a restaurant or a store or meeting, especially if I’m with my wife or a family member, or even with friends and colleagues. I have plenty of time to myself, when I can pay attention to my phone—people, real, in-person people, deserve better.

I also want my posts to be less trivial and aggrandizing. I want them to be things I would say to a real person, eye to eye, in their presence, in an unvarnished way.

I’ll need more than luck to change. I’ll stay accountable to you and report my successes and failures here. Thank you for understanding: You mean more to me than your Facebook post. I’ll try to prove that. You’re welcome to call me out if I don’t. Please, by all means, do. I need more friends like that.

Update: Sunday, September 18, 2016

How did I do this past week on my technoference goals? I made progress, but it did not go as well as I hoped. I had some successes in keeping my phone tucked away, but not all the time and not to my satisfaction. Checking my phone, even sans notifications, is a reflexive habit. I’ve realized that I need to adjust my approach. I need to read my scriptures on the train, for example, in the presence of others. So I am refining my goals. I need to try a few things first as I develop my personal phone etiquette (PPE). I’ll report back soon.

Update: Sunday, October 15, 2016

How am I doing on my smartphone goals? I have been doing better in some areas, and not so good in others. I have only improved slightly. I usually leave my phone in the car now when I go to dinner with my wife or run some errands with her. That way, I can be more focused on her. I have been doing a little better in meetings. But in other areas, I have fallen down. I am going to focus on keeping my phone put away when (1) I am in a personal conversation with someone; (2) I am in a meeting. When I am tempted to look at my phone in these situations, I plan to turn to mindfulness as an alternative. We’ll see. I am discovering that I am weaker than I thought I was. 😔