Smartphones & Relationships or My Eyes are Up Here

This week has been a little hectic around here as Theresa’s dad returned to the hospital Monday night. While he is doing much better now, and should be out soon, the last few days have been fairly intense… which explains why I haven’t been posting as much.

The hospital experience has always been fascinating to me: the orchestration and urgency of the emergency room, the precision and purpose of the surgical suites, and the slow paced monotony of much of the rest of the building. Through it all, I have always been impressed by the institutional focus of hospitals, and how well they handle the alternating periods of chaos and monotony. During our latest trip to the hospital, I saw something that I hadn’t previously noticed: doctors playing with smart phones. An argument could be made that I am a little more sensitive to this subject since hearing an NPR story on doctors being distracted by their iPhones, but I think it has more to do with a conversation had with a doctor who didn’t make eye contact with me… because she was fiddling with her smart phone.

As I have been thinking about that conversation over the last couple of days, I have been all over the place. I started out being deeply offended: is the smart phone more important than the issue we are dealing with? After I got over being offended, I became concerned: is her concern for her text messages getting in the way of her ability to care for my father-in-law? Once I got past being concerned, I became outraged: I do this to people as well.

Smartphones are amazing devices that have redefined the way that we go about our lives. They have replaced many of the devices that we thought were essential a few years ago (this article runs through the list), and continue to make many things much easier. That said, a recent study on how smartphones affect our relationships is pretty eye-opening:

The presence of the cell phone had no effect on relationship quality, trust, and empathy, but only if the pair discussed the casual topic.  In contrast, there were significant differences if the topic was meaningful. The pairs who conversed with a cell phone in the vicinity reported that their relationship quality was worse.  The pairs also reported feeling less trust and thought that their partners showed less empathy if there was a cell phone present.

The study has me asking a few significant questions:

  • Smartphone Check: Should we offer people the opportunity to check their smartphones before worship services and small group meetings? If we are attempting to create an environment that allows our congregations to better connect with God, and one-another, should we have a strategy in place to counteract the smartphone?
  • Cost Benefit Analysis: The benefits of smartphones are numerous… but are they really worth the cost? How can we balance out the benefits of using smartphones with regularity, while minimizing the effects that they have on our relationships?
  • Turning it Off: How comfortable am I when my phone is not in my pocket, or it has been turned off? How often am I am completely invested in a conversation when I have my phone with me? What values am I communicating to others when I play with my phone in the midst of a conversation?

What is YOUR strategy to prevent smartphones from getting in the way of relationships?


About the Author: Matt Steen

I love Jesus, Theresa (my wife), the Redskins & Capitals, and am currently living in Waco, Texas where I am studying the finer points of BBQ (while working on my MDiv and MBA at Baylor University). When not studying, I serve church leaders through and am the Director of Connections for Harris Creek Baptist Church's Downtown Campus.