Devotional, Day 8

Screen Time Can Deceive Us About the Quality of Our Relating

"Two are better than one,
    because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
    one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
    and has no one to help them up."
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

On top of making us averse to face-to-face relating, screen time can actually inhibit our cultivation of emotional intelligence (EQ), particularly social skills and our ability to empathize. Studies have shown that EQ is not something that people are born with – rather, it is learned and developed through observing conversation, body language, and facial expressions. In other words, a strong EQ is something that is only gained through face-to-face interactions. A 2012 study showed that among several variables, only one had a positive predictor of social and emotional development, and it was the amount of face-to-face interaction one had.

By increasing our screen time, we lessen the amount of time we are exposed to the type of real life interaction that allows us to cultivate mature relational skills and empathy. In fact, one 2014 study suggested that time away from screen media coupled with an increase in social interaction could actually improve recognition of non-verbal emotional cues. Those who spent more time with a screen and less time with people lacked accurate comprehension of emotional cues, a key to healthy communication. This lifestyle produces people who lack social skills, relate awkwardly, and don’t understand how to build relationships with people they encounter. These kinds of traits definitely decrease any priority or enjoyment of face-to-face relating.

All of these factors related to excessive screen use not only hurt our ability to live others-centered, relational lives, but they deceive us into thinking we have quality relationships. Sherry Turkle puts it this way:

“Technology is seductive when what it offers meets our human vulnerabilities. And as it turns out, we are very vulnerable indeed. We are lonely but fearful of intimacy. Digital connections and the sociable robot may offer the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. Our networked life allows us to hide from each other, even as we are tethered to each other. We’d rather text than talk.”

Relating through a screen can convince us that we are close with people. With thousands of friends and hundreds of followers, someone may quickly be convinced that they are hyper-connected, and yet; instead of feeling more known and understood by those around, we exist in a state of insecurity in our relationships. The screen allows people to protect themselves from potential heartbreak, rejection, and pain, but it also walls them off from making a genuine connection. Screens also allow us to put forward an edited version of ourselves and with that comes the consequence of people not truly knowing us and a growing sense of isolation. Screen time promotes an illusion of companionship without delivering on true friendship.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. How do you feel about your “Emotional Intelligence” (EQ)? Are there social skills that you feel like are lacking in your life? Some of these may include things like: being a good conversationalist, asking good questions, listening well, reading people accurately, communicating your own thoughts/feelings well, etc.
  2. How do you think focusing more attention on in-person relating could help you grow in those areas?