That was the feeling I had as my eyes caught his from across the room. A special time between father and son, quietly polluted by an email that had no right to be there. After the work day I had arrived home and was playing with our almost-2-year-old son in our lower level. As he haphazardly slammed his "plastic" pizza in his "plastic" microwave and filled up his "chocolate milk" cup, my mind wandered to my inbox. As I pulled out my phone and searched to see if the email I was waiting for had arrived, I looked up and saw my son locked on me.
It was at that moment that I was prompted to evaluate just how connected I was and how that connectivity could be creating a subtle disconnect in the most important part of my ministry…relationships.
Smartphones aren't inherently bad. I could give you a list of all the productive things I do with my phone that I could never have done with my previous "dumb phone" I had years ago. But what's always interested me about digital technology is how it impacts us relationally and culturally. How the devices in our pockets that keep us so "connected" have unintended consequences that rob us of connectedness in our physical relationships.
We are tethered to our phones over meals or meetings never really being 100% present. Our conversations are littered with acceptable interruptions. Our physical engagement with one another includes our devices and they might interrupt us. Or worse yet, we choose our devices over the very people we're engaged with. If you begin to look at your day and take inventory of your engagement with your spouse, friends, family, teammates, coaches or athletes - you may be surprised…I was. Sprinkled in throughout those physical engagements was a spattering of interruptions that my phone made or interruptions where I chose to disengage. I made the decision that my email, Facebook, Twitter or any number of other apps were more important in those moments than the people I was around.
If relationships are the foundation of our ministry, then we must steward over them well. Digital technology impacts our relationships and we would be naive to think otherwise.
The Choice Is Yours
Ultimately the phone in your pocket is yours. You decide if it vibrates, rings, alerts or flashes. You decide if you pick it up and check your email, reply to a quick text or see what your 3,212 Facebook friends are doing. The amount of engagement you have with the people you encounter every day is your choice. Take back control of your device if you need to and change the way you engage people.
Set Some Boundaries
There are a variety of things you can do to keep the mobile interruptions and distractions from your relationships. From placing your phone in a box while at home, to turning your phone to silent, to creating boundaries on how you'll use your devices. Some people have a no-phone policy at the dinner table. Others have a portion of time in the evening, over the weekend or on Sunday where they simply don't use their phones. For me, I've had to be more aware of my tendency to grab my phone while at home and resist the urge to disengage. As I write this there have been even moments today that I've chosen my phone over people for no valuable, necessary reason.
Lead the Way
While it has become culturally acceptable to be huddled around your phones as you wait for your meals to arrive at your favorite restaurant, you set the pace. You create the norms. During your meetings, one-on-one times, even as you wait in a crowded school hallway before your next appointment…you are helping to shape what's acceptable. You may find that while awkward at first, your time with people is more rewarding, more productive and more relational once the distractions and interruptions are removed.
Find The Balance
Like everything, moderation is key. Dump your smart phone altogether and you may lose out on productivity and some legitimate connectedness with those close to you. Let your smart phone infiltrate all of your daily relational engagements and you cheat the person or people right in front of you. Based on your context and conviction, fight for balance. Be honest, transparent and willing to do whatever necessary to restore a healthy balance.
As my son turned back around and grabbed his plastic pizza out of the microwave I put my phone back in my pocket. Since then I've become more aware of my surroundings and tendencies. My mobile habits are a work in progress but my relationships are worth the effort. How much more relational depth awaits us? How much more breakthrough could we encounter? How better could our time be with one another?
As my son grows up the one memory of his father I don't want him to have is the one where dad always had a phone in his hand or at his ear.
May we do the honest work of exploring how our mobile devices impact our relationships. And may may we do whatever necessary to better engage and value those relationships that God has entrusted to us.
Posted on Fri, May 10, 2013
by Danny Burns filed under