We have reached a worrisome place in our relationship with technology.

celine handbags canada goose We have – without conscious intent – tied our lives together with tiny computers that we carry everywhere we go. Today’s gizmos are so capable that it is easier to list what they DON’T do than it is to list what they do. But its not the bells and whistles that are reshaping our lives. The emerging crisis lies in how we use devices to interact with others, and often instead of interacting with others.

Women typing on mobile phonesIn mid-December, I stood waiting in line at the post office. Once, the experience of a shared delay in small acts of commerce gave rise to friendly chit-chat between folks in line. This time, every person in line was staring at their device, reading, listening, texting, and if it is a verb, facebooking. Looking down the line of screens, I was struck by how these gizmos have shifted the nature of our community. At times I, too, stare at my screen while waiting in line, so I don’t seek to lay blame. But we are more separated from our neighbors than ever.

And these are the people who are out and about. As more and more people do their banking and shopping in front of a screen at home, our shared landscape shrinks further. Those who obsess on video gaming or binge-watching Netflix demonstrate even more social isolation. What new social matrix are we creating for our youth?

571fb9aa1900002e0056c464And is using smartphones making us stupid?. In Augsburg, Germany, after a 15-year old girl was killed by a tram while staring at her phone, officials installed red alert lights in the pavement at tram crossings, to try to get the attention of people staring down at their phone screens. A European study showed that 1 in 6 pedestrians cross streets distracted by their phones — but it is not just a European problem. A similar lighting system was installed in Chongqing, China, and the term “smombie” – an abbreviation of ‘smartphone zombie’ – was recognized in 2016 by a dictionary publisher.

One venue for electronic communication is in the classroom, where students using laptops has become the norm – sometimes even with pre-teen students. In an essay called Leave Your Laptops at the Door to My Classroom, law professor Darren Rosenblum comments on the influence of technology in the classroom. After banning laptops, he observed that “With constant eye contact, I could see and feel when [students] understood me and when they did not. Energized by the connection, we moved faster, further and deeper into the material.”

happy-laughing-friends-4-pngConnection. We know that connection is at the core of effective relationships, both inside and outside the classroom.   One might claim that Rosenblum compromised his connection with students by taking an unpopular stance about computers. But the benefit of unmediated human connection is hard to dispute.

And education, as much as it relies upon connection, seeks the growth that connection can bring. Rosenblum goes on to address the ultimate purpose of his laptop ban. “My students need to learn how to be lawyers and professionals. To succeed they must internalize an ethos of caution, care and respect. To instill these values and skills in my students, I have no choice but to limit laptop use in the classroom.”

So if the ubiquitous use of laptops and smartphones is affecting neighbors in the post office, pedestrians in the street, and students in the classroom, what is happening at home?

kidsusingipods2-1Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal believes technology can impact the very core of our home life. “Research shows that just having a phone on the table is sufficiently distracting to reduce empathy and rapport between two people who are in conversation.”

canada goose The ubiquity of phones was driven home to me over the holidays in two snapshots. Once, I sat at a dining table talking with my nieces while their parents sat nearby, each with a smart phone up to their face. (For the record, I’m certain they were doing important things on their phones!) I managed to elicit eye-rolls by joking “Look at your parents – you must not have raised them very well!”

celine bags Woman reading and texting on smartphone in bedA week later, I found myself lying in bed next to my spouse, both of us staring at our smartphone screens. And while surfing essays on the internet, I encountered a proposal that for a healthy marriage, the use of smartphones should be banned from the marriage bed!

There are many impacts of smartphone use that go beyond our relationships: our connection to nature; our overall awareness of the world around us; and our effectiveness at self-reflection. I have written and will write about these issues. But we have to ‘answer the call’ about phones impact on our social lives.

I don’t doubt that my own use of technology compromises my relationships. And I am acutely aware that there doesn’t seem to be a consensus about what is and isn’t OK use of a smartphone when you are around others. (Though some are trying.) In fact, the lack of consensus is itself indicative: we keep expanding our use of devices without conscious intent. My partner and I never decided to both use our phones in bed every night. And I doubt my nieces and their parents made a family agreement about who uses their phone, at what times, and for what reasons.

iphonelaptopcropped-20160929101644603But the time has come for a widespread and collective dialog about how, where, and when we use our devices. They are incredibly useful things. We just need to be conscious of how we use them. If we want to be smarter than our smart phones, we need to have this discussion and come to shared agreements.

Otherwise, we are collectively walking out into the street, oblivious.

You might want to try…

How often do you look at your smartphone each day? A variety of studies have gotten widely varying results, but there is a clear pattern of people wildly underestimating this number. Try this: Guess how many times you check your phone in a day, and then conduct a one-day count. Also: Identify one place or time you have been annoyed by someone’s phone use or that you have annoyed someone else. Have a conversation with at least one other person about that usage issue. See what others think, and see if you can find common ground around your expectations.