Let’s face it: I’m older than the average Crewite, or Crewbie, or whatever you Crew kids are calling yourselves nowadays. I’ve seen lots of changes in technology through the years. I’m old enough to have owned the first video game: a console containing the game “Pong.” Black screen, two white lines, and a small white square; hours of fun:
As a bonus, Pong came with two other games preloaded. Look how different they were from Pong. Here’s hockey:
A lot has happened since then. We’ve moved from white lines to Black Ops. Technology is changing so quickly we can barely seem to keep up with it.
One of the most fascinating and revolutionary changes in technology I have seen is the invention of smart phones like the iPhone. But along with all the unimaginable conveniences these devices bring, I’ve observed an interesting social dynamic. This dynamic has to do with the effect of this technology on socialization–or at least it’s perceived impact on socialization.
You see, there seems to be a marked difference in the use of smart phones or other devices while interacting with others. I’m not sure of the exact age cut-off, but I think this dynamic breaks down like this: Those people age 40 and older generally believe that it is difficult, if not impossible, for someone to multi-task while socializing. If I’m talking to you but not making eye contact, instead fiddling with my iPhone, this age group hears this message: “Your interaction with me is not important to you. You value your device more than you value me. You cannot give me your full attention while fiddling with your device.” This age group believes that texting, doing a web search, reading emails, etc., all require the person’s faculties of focus to be engaged in the task. If you’re doing those things while being spoken to, you’re only hearing part, maybe even only a small part, of the conversation. To this age group, device-fiddling when being spoken to is the same as saying, “I find you boring; certainly there’s something online more fascinating than this current conversation. I need to be entertained now, because my interaction with you is so unbelievably dull.”
The under-40 crowd tends to view this differently. They’re convinced that multi-tasking while socializing is not only possible, it’s becoming increasingly normative. Checking your iPhone during conversation is not viewed as an interruption, but as a normal dynamic when engaging with others. They would say, “I am perfectly capable of hearing all your words and processing them while touching my index finger to a screen. I can listen to you, read a sentence on my device, then reply to you. Not only am I capable of doing do this, but doing so in no way communicates that I devalue you or our conversation.
Being aware of this dynamic has allowed me (and yes, I fall well within the older group) to understand that multi-tasking with a smart phone during personal conversation is possible. In fact, I think the younger generation may even be better conditioned to divide their attention between tasks than my generation. So don’t think I’m inwardly scowling if you check a text while I’m in the room. In fact, I’ve been known to do this, too, and I know of others my age who are perfectly OK with this.
Still, I think we should take stock of this, especially when we’re talking with those from an older generation. If checking my phone causes them to feel devalued, then shouldn’t I, out of love for them, put it away while we talk? Is it possible that giving them eye contact is a way that we can communicate that we appreciate them, and that we value their views, opinions, and feelings? The apostle John said in 1 John 3:16, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” If we are called to lay down our lives for one another, perhaps we can begin by laying down our iPhones for one another.
I do, however, wonder if there isn’t some level of truth in the perception of the older generation. I’ve wondered about this when attending social events where everyone sits checking their devices rather than talking to one another. Sara has told me that this is one of the saddest things she’s ever seen: A couple sitting at Wendy’s, with the glow of their phones reflecting on their faces rather than the glow of being in the company of someone they find exciting. And we’re not alone in wondering about this. One of my favorite lines from Twitter goes something like this: “Men, if you touched your wives as much as you touched your iPhones, your marriage would be in a much better place.”
This dynamic isn’t just true of using iPhones, but of other contexts as well. I’ve been introduced to several couples where the wife is engaged in the conversation, looking me in the eye, responding to my comments, and showing by her facial expression that she cares about the conversation. The husband (why does it always seem to be the husband?) appears disinterested, seems to be looking around for a familiar face, and responds verbally only with, “Huh? Oh… yeah.”
So I guess the small takeaway from this is: Let’s love one another enough to act interested—and hopefully it will be more than an act. Show preference to one another—and with someone from an older generation that may mean surrendering your liberty to multi-task while socializing. Want to contextualize the gospel? Contextualize it with older folks by turning the thing off. You’d be surprised how that changes the dynamic in the conversation.
The bigger takeaway is that when you are with another person, be fully there. Yes, maybe you can check your phone and get it all, but beware of forgetting to look them in the eye. Beware of forgetting to allow your facial expressions to reflect a heart that is fully engaged. Be aware of communicating disinterest, and be sure that your body language communicates this: I value you.