I’m not yet 30, but I’m old enough to remember dial-up connections and AOL Instant Messenger, “away messages” to let people know when you were away from your computer, arguing with siblings over who got to use the computer to “get online,” and then arguing again when your time was up because you were in the middle of a conversation on AIM with the boy you had a crush on.
But today, things are different. We carry the internet in our pockets. We have smartphones that we use while we’re using the bathroom. We have wifi everywhere we go and anyone can be online for any length of time, at any time of day, at the same time. There’s really not much separation between online and real life. We don’t have “away messages” anymore because we’re never away. Or, if we do put up an “out of office” email reply, we will still check our email most days, even from the beach! It’s a very different world now that “online” is everywhere and anywhere.
We can share what we are eating, while we’re eating it. We can let people know exactly where we are and what we do every single day. We can add a GIF when we don’t have the right words to describe how much fun we’re having, and it only happened if you Instagrammed about it, right?
But then, when we sit down across the table, and put our phone face up and over to the side—not fully away lest we miss something—we don’t have much to say. Maybe it’s because we’ve used all our words online, or maybe we’re just not used to the face-to-face connection. But as soon as there’s a pause in conversation, our hands aimlessly wander to the phone, scrolling through to see what we missed and watching a special moment someone is having somewhere else.
Isn’t this sort-of crazy when you think about it? We have endless words to type and ample time to scroll through this digital world on our phone, but then we feel overwhelmed and busy and too tired to connect with the real, physical human beings in our life. Maybe you haven’t experienced this yet, and maybe conversation comes naturally to you while you leave your phone behind at home and go out and about for hours. If this is not a struggle for you, please share your secrets with us! But I would venture to guess that you could go sit at a restaurant today to do a little people watching, and within minutes you’d see this:
Mom and dad are sitting across from one another, each with a phone in hand. One child is snapchatting, the other playing a game. They glance up at the waiter to ask for their refill, then their eyes go back to the phones.
They may chuckle from time to time at what they see online, but silence falls between them and across the table until it’s time to go.
Or maybe it’s a young man and woman on what seems to be a date. Conversation is going okay, but then something gets mentioned that requires a quick internet search. But googling that thing that was mentioned turns into a quick check on messages and before you know it, “So tell me more about…” becomes, “Let me just reply to this email, one second…” while the other waits and looks around the room.
I’m painting this picture because we’ve all been there, not to throw shade or hate or people who do this. I myself do this without even meaning to! I reach for the phone out of habit, to fill a void, to give myself something to do while I wait, and before I know it, I’m putting a virtual wall up between me and that friend, silently communicating that what I am looking at here in this little glass box is more interesting, more important, more pressing than anything you have to say to me.
Why is it so easy to engage with our phones, but so difficult to engage in relationship? Why do our phones earn a permanent spot in our hands, but we find it hard to carve out the time to sit and listen to a friend who needs a shoulder to cry on?
It’s something I’ve been pondering lately, and I want to hear from you. What is it about the phone that so naturally earns our time? Have you seen this affect your physical relationships? Have you been guilty of the mid-conversation side glance to see what you’re missing on social media or from other email and messaging platforms? I suspect I’m not alone in this.
But I also want us to think on this: What would it look like for us—as women of God—to reclaim the time we spend with our family and friends by putting our phones away and giving our full attention to the person across from us? What would it communicate to our neighbor if we were willing to sit and have a 30-minute conversation, uninterrupted, without rushing out to check on that thing we were doing before they knocked on the door? What would it say to our little ones if we squatted down to their level and looked them in the eyes when they asked a question, instead of mindlessly mumbling a reply with our eyes still locked on the screen?
At the end of my life, I don’t think I’ll be wishing I had spent more time on my phone. I don’t think I’ll be regretting the time I missed on social media or the fact that I didn’t see so-and-so post such-and-such. I think I will regret the conversations I never had or the moments that I let my friend down by not being there. I think I’ll wish I had made more effort to communicate with the people in front of me and stopped worrying about all the extras online.
I don’t have a solution, because I know our phones serve a purpose and get us from place to place and keep us connected with old friends. And I know that there are so many amazing apps now that can even steer us toward the Lord! In fact, we’ve made an entire freebie of 20 Apps to Fuel Your Faith, which you can find here. But I want to be time-aware and direct with how I use this little box I hold in my hands.
I want to be more intentional to steer my heart toward the things that last, and not the things that disappear in 24 hours. I want to care less about the social media world and love the physical community around me with intentionality and genuine interest.
I want to be a woman who loves Jesus, serves her people, loves her neighbor, and happens to have a phone for the emergencies and necessities. I don’t want to be a statistic, a discouragement, or just another millennial who can’t seem to engage with the world around her long enough to put her phone away. Let’s reclaim the conversations that need to be had and the relationships that have been getting less attention than they deserve. Let’s put our phones aside for the day and engage with the people right in front of us. Let’s be women with a purpose: to glorify God and make His Kingdom grow, one personal conversation at a time.
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