Last night, my daughter asked me to rub her back. I noticed myself hesitate. My addiction to my phone took over – I wanted to keep doing emails, reading Facebook news, and beating people I don’t even know at Scrabble. I had to remind myself that my relationship with my daughter was more important than distracting myself with my phone. I made myself put it down and a sweet interaction and conversation ensued as she laid on the floor of our living room in the dim quiet light while I massaged her aches away.
This experience is happening to me more and more these days. I notice myself preferring texting, posting, swiping, liking, blogging, scanning countless images, videos, and devouring the latest gossip or news snippet to *being* in my REAL life and relationships. I postpone going to bed to get one more word in.
But it isn’t just me. It’s all of us. I can barely have a conversation with my children anymore without several interruptive pauses as they respond to the latest “beep”. We are hard pressed to get through a meal as a family without looking up something on our phones. The phone is the last thing we look at before sleep and the first thing we look at when awake. We take it with us every time we visit the bathroom. It is frightening to watch myself and my family glued more and more to our screens. We are like addicts in need of our technological “fix” lest we die from withdrawal, boredom or loneliness.
Last year, when I heard that a friend of mine had a death in the family, my heart went out to her. I lovingly sent out a text to let other friends know so they could send their condolences. Upon hearing the news, another friend of mine immediately went to her house to offer support. I was shocked to realize that it had never occurred to me to do that. I had forgotten that a text was a poor substitute for real human contact.
What is happening to us? How is this digital age impacting our relationships and our families?
We talk less, interact less and get out of the house less. We rarely look at each other and we have less sex. We take fewer risks. We hardly ever reach out to each other by phone and have an extended conversation. We have fewer deep, rewarding interactions with our spouse, children and friends. We are lonelier, and more disconnected and isolated than ever. This new way of living is becoming more and more a new way of not living.
We see the impact of this digital age all the time in our relationship work.
We come across many singles who are understandably desperate for intimacy. So-called “dating” sites are like shopping catalogues for the perfect specimen, and the few dates with prospective partners that occur after meeting online are but judging fests with little or no genuine connection. Most singles are touch and affection starved. As a result, many feel hopelessly sure there is something wrong with them and afraid they will be lonely forever.
Couples surprisingly feel just as lonely and disconnected in their homes and marriages. They can go months or even years without talking, looking at each other or making sweet deep love. Many men disappear into their work, computer or porn worlds while women contemplate divorce in secret while losing themselves in TV dramas, house and kid logistics, or careers. Turns out many couples are just as love and touch starved as their single counterparts.
Many of my women friends who have relatively happy lives are sure they are the only ones who never get out much, are never invited to parties or events or dinners. But in reality, all of us are merely spending way too much time on our screens, pretending we have lots of friends and connections as we scroll through pages of posts and pictures, and feeling involved in life by proxy as we Netflix the latest episode of our favorite series.
Just look around the next time you walk into a coffee shop – there just isn’t much real-life human interaction and conversation going on anywhere these days. It is no wonder we are lonely. And the cycle is self-perpetuating, as we go to our screens to find the connection we long for, the very thing that keeps us feeling disconnected in the first place!
I am 59 years old, so I have known life without smartphones and computers. I remember playing outside and spending hours camping and swimming and playing games when I was growing up. I remember reading books out loud with my parents before bed and having conversations about our “day” over dinner. We worked together in the yard, cooked meals and cleaned up together and engaged in crafting projects, and played with our animals. Watching television was something that happened sparingly in the evenings. Going to the theatre was a rare special treat.
My past helps me remember that life is richest and my relationships more meaningful away from electronic gizmos. Each activity in real life that I design into my day contributes more to my body, heart and soul than any news feed ever has. I play volleyball six hours a week. I teach myself to learn new songs on the piano. I gather with women in a spiritual group. I coach clients and lead workshops. We engage in community workdays, where some ten families alternate going to each other’s houses once a month to work together on a project of that family’s choice. Christian and I take walks regularly in nature. We vacation at new places every year. We dance and laugh and crack jokes and sing songs. We have a “no phone” table policy, with and without kids, which means mealtimes are conversation rich. Making love is a priority for us every week. We invite friends over for dinner and games and holiday celebrations that are purposefully interactive, playful and memorable. For example, over Christmas, we played fun white elephant games, lit candles on our tree in reverential silence, sang songs, and went caroling with friends. On New Year’s Eve, we dined with two other couples and played a game called Sparked that inspired us to share stories, laughter, tears and love.
Each real life activity encourages us to meet the unexpected play of life in motion with undivided focus, to be in the time consuming messiness, awkwardness, deliciousness and pleasure of real relating and living in all its variety.
Still, even with knowing all that I know, I feel the pull of the screen…
Christian and I judge our children and their friends for having phones glued to their hands, even when together, with little eye contact and real conversation. For them, like us, the pull of technology is constant. But they know the richness of life without phones too. Our son came alive with purpose and perspective when he volunteered in Bali this last summer, a location with sketchy Internet. He appreciated more than ever in retrospect his media-free Waldorf Education and vowed to spend fewer hours on the computer upon his return. Our daughter enjoyed the peaceful beauty of nature, singing songs and working together in the elements when she joined her class for an 8th grade field trip on the shores of Maine without phones.
Both of our children and their friends appreciate it (even though they hate it) when we tell them to put phones aside for a meal, an activity or visit – they literally come alive as they engage with us, each other and their surroundings.
It is more and more imperative that we insist on making time to really be with each other in this life; to not let the pull of our screens put us to sleep to what really matters. There is nothing that fills us up more than genuine interaction with other human beings, than being present to the beauty of these bodies in this life with all of our senses. No one wishes they had spent more time on their phones when faced with death. They wish they had danced more, loved more, played more, touched more, laughed more.
Personally, I think that is what makes our live trainings so powerful. People are supported to actually look at each other, talk to each other and work through conflicts together. In the process, souls are nourished, hearts are blown open and people are massively transformed in a way that can only happen in community with others.
I will never forget one man, sharing with tears in his eyes, that his wife hadn’t looked at him like that for years. Another woman, on the edge of divorce, fell in love with her husband again after just a few moments of guided heartfelt sharing. A single man, who had given up on love, months later was in the relationship of his dreams because he dared physically reach out to someone he was interested in 2,000 miles away.
Meaning, contribution, mystery, play, passion, love and transformation show up in real life; it is not replicable on a screen. It is in relationship with life and others that we see and feel ourselves, where we are supported to grow and experience and play and transform and create and manifest.
I believe that in this digital age, we are challenged more than ever to create meaningful, passionate, joyful, love-filled lives and relationships. And for those of us who happen to still remember life before TV and computers and phones, well, we may be the last generation to impart to our youth the value of eye-contact, delivering appreciations, having loving sex, being vulnerably honest, sharing deep feelings, taking risks, being in nature and focusing our attention on who and what we love.
To do so, we will need to find the commitment and courage to disconnect from our own technological gadgets, to get out of the house, to make sex, love and relating a priority, to model what is possible when our lover or children ask for our attention and we don’t hesitate to put down our phones.
Note: If you would like to deepen your relationship and life experience in 2017, you are invited to put down your phone and join us. loveworksforyou.com
Any thought or comments, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org