Is Your Phone Ruining Your Friendships?

When you’re out with your friends, do you use your cell phone? Is it sitting on the table as you have your monthly catch-up dinner? Well, I used to be very cognizant of not using my phone around my friends, but I’ve noticed that in the last year, I’ve gotten worse. I’ve actually texted while having a conversation with someone (without having to look down at my phone), and texted during my graduate level classes while discreetly holding the phone under the table. I feel embarrassed even writing that, because I pride myself on giving all of my attention to anyone I’m talking to and really being present during school lectures.

This opinion piece in the NY Times is a beautifully written wake-up call to all of us; Stop Googling. Let’s Talk. The author, MIT Professor Sherry Turkle makes the case that it’s time for us to start connecting with others in a face-to-face way and to be okay with solitude sans our digital devices. It’s a beautifully written article and worth a read.

She brings up some fascinating statistics about phone usage and connection. This one in particular blew me away:

Studies of conversation both in the laboratory and in natural settings show that when two people are talking, the mere presence of a phone on a table between them or in the periphery of their vision changes both what they talk about and the degree of connection they feel. People keep the conversation on topics where they won’t mind being interrupted. They don’t feel as invested in each other. Even a silent phone disconnects us.

-Sherry Turkle

I thought that was fascinating! That even just having a phone in the vicinity of your interaction with a friend can affect the depth of that conversation. It sure does for me. For example, I have a close friend who lives out of town, and I go to dinner with her when she’s in town for a film shoot (she’s a producer) and because of the nature of her job, she’s always got to have her phone on the table. Invariably, at least once during a meal together, she stops to check her email, reply to someone, and then reply to another text that’s come through during dinner. Now look, I’m not complaining, because I relish any time I spend with her,  however little or distracted it may be,  but I miss the days when we were totally focused on each other, diving deep into  funny, odd and more vulnerable conversation territory.

Attention is one of the biggest gifts you can give to your loved ones. And, at the end of the day, we can’t forget that we’re animals – we connect via our eyes and body language. We need to keep that an integral part of our “connecting”  to other people.

Turkle’s suggestion to us all was simple and optimistic:

It is not about giving up our phones but about using them with greater intention. Conversation is there for us to reclaim. For the failing connections of our digital world, it is the talking cure.

So let’s reclaim conversation. With friends. Family. Strangers.

I’ve made a pact with myself to put away my phone when talking to my friends. What will you do?

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