Devotional, Day 6

Screens Can Make Face-to-Face Relating Seem Unimportant and Even Intimidating

"Like apples of gold in settings of silver, Is a word spoken at the proper time."
Proverbs 25:11

"As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another."
Proverbs 27:17

As we reflected on earlier (Day 1), God designed humans to have rich relationships. God designed us to feel fulfilled through being others-centered and inter-connected. In order to have these types of relationships there needs to be a high level of face-to-face relating. With this in mind, we must consider the impact excessive screen time can have in our life. 

Screen time tends to decrease our priority of face-to-face relating and in-person conversation. We miss out on the richness of human interaction when most of our interactions take place with both parties behind a screen. One way that lots of screen time hurts us is because it pulls us away from time we could spend relating in-person. The more time we spend in front of a screen, the less time we spend face-to-face. Studies show that the average person is spending 4.5-7.5 hours per day in front of a screen on social media, playing games, or surfing the web. That means that person has that many less hours per day to spend having conversation in-person. Psychologist Jean Twenge’s studies have shown that with the advent of social media and smartphones, teens and young adults are spending much less time with friends (about an hour a day less) and more time online and staring at screens. 

It is not just that more time spent on screens makes less time for in-person relating, but it also makes us more aversive to in-person relating. When we spend hours on a screen, it makes us less excited to engage with people face-to-face. Our time on screens provides an easily-controlled environment for us to manage our interactions with others. When relating face-to-face we are constantly having to adapt to spontaneous twists and turns in conversations, which can be intimidating. In the screen world, we have time to calculate a perfect response and can even control what we respond to. In Sherry Turkle’s book Alone Together, she remarks, “Whenever one has time to write, edit, and delete, there is room for performance.” When we are faced with real conversation, there is risk. Turkle, in her book, Reclaiming Conversation, also notices this issue:

“When I ask, ‘What’s wrong with conversation?’ answers are forthcoming. A young man in his senior year of high school makes things clear: ‘What’s wrong with conversation? I’ll tell you what’s wrong with conversation! It takes place in real time and you can’t control what you’re going to say.’ This reticence about conversation in ‘real time’ is not confined to the young. Across generations, people struggle to control what feels like an endless stream of ‘incoming’ – information to assimilate and act on and interactions to manage. Handling things online feels like the beginning of a solution: At least we can answer questions at our convenience and edit our responses to get them ‘right.’”

Relating through a screen offers a controlled environment to ensure a pristine presentation of our thoughts and image. When this method of relating is used more frequently, it is easy to see why we would become less interested in relating in a way that is much less easy to control.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Do you notice yourself being drawn to more time watching and interacting with things through your phone versus in-person time? What about these activities do you think draws you in so much?
  2. Do you identify with any of the fears expressed about in-person relating and its “risks?” What might be helpful things to remember or consider when dealing with these fears?
  3. Get together with a friend – for coffee, for a walk – and leave your phones behind.