The word “wall” has recently become both penetratingly evocative and overwhelmingly divisive. It is a word over which opposing sides have begun to make deplorable character judgments at best and terminate relationships at worst. It is a loaded buzzword over which comedians have poked fun at and created skits. It is a concept which has become the theme in our favorite TV show episodes and award nominated films.
Unlike the recent debates over the U.S and its boundaries with Mexico, this blog references the metaphorical wall which is everywhere in our contemporary world. This wall is so pervasive, so routine, so convenient and necessary, we do not give it a thought. You might ask, “What wall? Where is it? I don’t see any wall!” To answer this question, you need look no further than the palm of your hand. That’s right, the smart phone! This gadget immediately puts entertainment, photos, videos, phone numbers, math, or directions at our fingertips and we are unwilling to live without it, even if it takes on the function of a wall. Remember the function of a wall is to keep things from outside getting in, and things from the inside getting out. Turns out, our smart phones behave like a technological moat which separates people from each other.
Smart phones have inhibited connection between people in five critical ways. First, they have changed the way people communicate. Instead of talking on the phone, most people nowadays are half engaged in text “conversations” which are both distracted and marked by abbreviated thoughts and sentences. Sometimes they are engaged in multiple conversations at one time! Second, they have changed the way people meet. Instead of being introduced by friends or common interests, “swipes” on your smart phone bring potential meet ups to one’s device. Such things as eye contact, smiling, laughing, and spending time have been replaced with swipe, text, chat, and hook up, often without knowing the sound of each other’s voices, let alone knowing the person you are with. Third, they undermine and jeopardize intimate relationships. More and more, couples are showing up in conjoint therapy because 1) their partner invests too much time logged into social media, games, porn, and text conversations, or 2) private relationships and conversations generated on the device have increased distrust and insecurity. Eventually this continual distancing will erode the relationship. Fourth, smart phones have changed the way people relate at family and social events. It is not uncommon to see people at such gatherings absorbed with either texting, selfie-ing, snap-chatting, or even playing games when they are in the company of others. These non-verbal behaviors serve to keep other’s away rather than bringing them together. Fifth, smart phones can create confusion and misunderstanding between people. Because there is the inherent expectation of immediate response, people are unable to make true sense of the motivation behind messages and the delayed reply text. Worse yet is when there is break up or no reply at all – it may be easier for avoidant folks to communicate this way, but those on the receiving end feel rejected and devalued.
Research studies have been very consistent about the need for interpersonal communication between humans which happens through verbal and non-verbal communication. Eye contact, smiling, tone of voice, and attunement are critical body language components in the foundation of attachment and security in human beings. If we are looking down, rather than into each other’s eyes, is it any wonder that human beings are experiencing more isolation and loneliness than ever before? If this is true, should we not be concerned of the consequences of this wall?
Obviously, smart phones are here to stay – we have been trained to expect immediate results where communication is concerned and many smart phone features add to our safety and convenience. However, we must acknowledge that, despite the benefits, smart phones have allowed us to sacrifice relating in the way human beings require. The first step is to increase awareness that smart phones have the potential to set up walls. Once understood, perhaps we can find ways to talk to each other and put our phones face down when we are in the same room with our friends, partners, and families. Consequently, we will have connected by letting things from outside in, and things from the inside out.