Love the one you're with.
Discovering the secret of "social" in a social media world
It wasn't uncommon to see our family room packed with kids. My three kids would each invite their friends, and before we knew it, we had kids bouncing off the walls. The more kids, the higher the volume. My kids were loud!
Then they became teenagers.
You'd think teenagers would be louder ... right?
I remember a particular day when we had about half a dozen teenagers over. As each of them arrived I'd hear voices raised in excitement, but then the volume would decrease. I could hear it all from where I was sitting in my office down the hall.
Finally, when all of them settled in the family room together, I noticed the house had grown quiet — deathly quiet. Literally silent. I thought, Did they all leave? I didn't even hear them go.
I walked into the front room, and there they all were sitting on our big sectional couch.
I don't even have to tell you why they were silent, do I?
There were seven people in the room and not a single one of them was talking. They were all engrossed in their phones.
I leaned over my daughter's shoulder to look at her screen. She was texting the guy on the opposite end of the couch.
I did what we dads often do. I stated the obvious.
"He's right there!" I said, pointing to my daughter's boyfriend.
She didn't like that very much.
The ironic thing is, she ended up breaking up with the guy a few weeks later because — guess what — he wasn't really good at talking. This guy would text my daughter and connect with her through social media consistently, but when the two of them got together, he was awkward and silent.
Have you ever met someone like this?
It's because social media is destroying our ability to be social.
In a world where 89 percent of teenagers report using some type of social media, you'd think young people would be more ... social. In actuality, it's quite the opposite.
The evidence is clear. Face-to-face conversations are becoming much more difficult for young people today. People are spending far more of their waking hours staring at screens than they are communicating face-to-face ... and it's inhibiting their ability to have a conversation.
As people become more used to screens, they struggle to maintain dialogue with real-life people. You probably don't need to read a study to come to that conclusion. If you go to school or have any contact with other young people day to day, then you've probably noticed these symptoms:
Someone pulling out a phone and looking at it in the middle of a face-to-face conversation
Someone who is very chatty through screens but proves to be quite the opposite in person
A failure to understand (or even recognize) what others are actually feeling and experiencing
Screen time distracting people from important tasks
A decrease in face-to-face social time as screen time increases
In short, as those of today's "smartphone generation" become more screen-dependent, they are becoming socially impaired.
We're seeing this trend reveal itself in several different ways.
1. Diminished Ability to Recognize Facial Expressions
The more time young people spend communicating through screens, the less they recognize real-life face-to-face "social cues." In other words, they don't even know what "worried" looks like on someone's face.
A few years ago, UCLA did an eye-opening study where they sent a group of kids to an outdoor camp for five days. This was no ordinary camp. The kids who attended were unplugged and media-free for all five days. No phones, no Internet, no music, no TV ... nothing!
The researchers observed these kids, comparing them to another group of kids who were connected and plugged in to a normal media diet. By the end of the five days, the unplugged kids were better able to understand emotions and nonverbal cues than the plugged-in kids.
Let that sink in for a moment.
After kids spent only five days talking, laughing, and interacting with each other face-to-face, they were able to communicate better. They could actually recognize and differentiate when a friend was content, stressed, excited, or scared.
This should give us hope. Who cares if the majority of young people are becoming screen-dependent. You can be a better listener — and a better friend — when you simply put your phone in your pocket while hanging out with your friends.
Many of us are resistant to putting our phones away. In fact, as digital communication becomes more mainstream, we've even come up with new tools to try to duplicate face-to-face interaction. We use emojis to try to help our friends "see" our mood. We snap pics of our facial expression as we message each other. And these help ... a little bit.
Some social researchers decided to measure exactly how effective these different kinds of communication are through a unique bonding experiment where people engaged in conversation with friends in four different ways: in person, video chat, audio chat, and instant messaging. Bonding was measured and was found to differ "significantly across the conditions."
As much as people love texting and want it to be effective, instant messaging failed to relay many of the intended facial expressions and voice inflections. Even when texters tried using ALL CAPS or emojis, it proved to be the least effective method of all four types of communication. In fact, the greatest bonding occurred during the in-person interaction, followed by video chat, audio chat, and finally instant messaging.
My oldest daughter, Alyssa, who loves texting, once told me, "I never use texting for deep conversations. If you ever get in a fight with your friend or your boyfriend, put the phone down and drive over to their house to work it out. Texting is the worst way to work things out. You can't tell if they're mad, sad, or truly over it. Always do your deep communicating face-to-face."
I think Alyssa is onto something. Digital mediums are handy (I love them), but they lose something. In fact, another negative by-product many are noticing is ...
2. Lack of Empathy
The more we stare at screens, the less likely we are to "empathize" with our friends.
Empathy is our ability to step into someone else's shoes and consider how they feel. Experts are discovering a strong connection between technology and a lack of empathy. This goes way beyond a diminished ability to recognize others' facial expressions. Not only are we missing what they're communicating, but we've stopped caring. The lack of understanding has created a lack of empathy.
Sherry Turkle, MIT professor and author of the book Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, has observed this in her own research, noting today's kids "don't seem to be able to put themselves in the place of other children." In fact, kids who are sitting around staring at their phones consistently "seem to understand each other less."
In short, people are becoming more self-absorbed. I care about you less because I'm so caught up in my own world.
This lack of empathy is hurting relationships. Who wants to hang out with someone who is only into himself? In the same way, who wants to hang out with someone who is so engrossed in their phone all the time that they don't even recognize what you're feeling?
Sadly, the natural next step in this digression is ...
3. A Decrease in Close Friends
Social media isn't just making conversation more difficult; it's actually killing our close relationships.
Most research suggests that the more time a young person spends dialoguing with people through their screens, the fewer friends they have. This might seem counterintuitive, but think about it for a moment. The progression makes sense:
People today are spending more time on screens than at any other time in history.
The more time people spend communicating through screens, the less effectively they communicate face-to-face.
People are spending less time communicating face-to-face since it's difficult.
The decrease in face-to-face communication is leading to a lack of empathy for others — people who are self-absorbed.
No one likes to be around someone who is self-absorbed.
People have fewer close friends.
Just last month UCLA developmental psychologist Patricia Greenfield reported young people are seeking social support through social media, and "the result is a decline in intimate friendships." The more young people turn to e-friends, the less they turn to face-to-face friends. The result is fewer close friends.
Social media is making us less social.
IN YOUR POCKET
You have the power to reverse this trend within your circle of friends. You don't have to smash your smartphone. You don't have to give up streaming Netflix. Your phone isn't the problem. In fact, the solution is simple: just put your phone in your pocket when you're hanging out with your friends and family.
Your phone is a great tool for connecting with people outside the room ... when it doesn't sever your connection with the people inside the room!
It's a simple matter of respect. Maybe you've had the frustrating experience of sharing your heart with a friend and they keep checking their phone while you talk. You just wanna say, "Sorry, am I interrupting something more important?"
If you don't want to be treated this way, don't treat others that way.
It's called "the Golden Rule."
Actually, the Golden Rule is from the Bible. It's something Jesus said in the book of Matthew: "Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets" (Matthew 7:12).
Imagine that. Think about what it would look like if everyone walked through life considering others first. What would that be like at school? What about at home?
Picture your friend putting away their phone when you walk into the room, looking up at you, asking you about your day, and truly listening to you when you talk. Really listening, like they're interested! (Hopefully you have some friends who actually do this.)
If that sounds good to you, then Jesus is simply asking you to do the same to your friends.
What could that look like this week?
QUESTIONS TO PONDER
1. Have you ever spent time with someone who was glued to their phone, even when you were trying to hang out with them? How did you feel?
2. Have you ever done that with a friend? With a parent?
3. Why do you think the "unplugged" kids in the UCLA study mentioned above were better able to understand emotions and nonverbal cues than the plugged-in kids after just five days without any phones or media?
4. Why do you think kids who are sitting around staring at their phones consistently "seem to understand each other less"?
5. Why does someone who is self-absorbed have fewer friends?
6. What is Jesus' simple advice to us about the way to treat others?
7. What did He mean when He said this advice was the "essence" of all that was taught in the Bible up to that point? How important is that?
8. I asked it at the end of this chapter, but let me ask it again: What is a way you can "do to others what you would like them to do to you" this week?
9. Google the word "empathize." What does it mean? How can you live that out this week?
SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT
The MIT professor I mentioned earlier in this chapter made an interesting observation about the effect of smartphones on people's relationships: "Studies of conversation both in the laboratory and in natural settings show that when two people are talking, the mere presence of a phone on a table between them or in the periphery of their vision changes both what they talk about and the degree of connection they feel."
Think about that for a moment. A guy and a girl are having dinner. The guy pulls out his phone and puts it on the table. The phone buzzes and the screen lights up throughout the meal. If the guy looks at it, he has just revealed his priorities: The communication coming from the phone is more important than the communication here at the table. If the guy doesn't look at it ... why is the phone even on the table?
Try something. Keep your phone in your pocket during meals with friends or family, and see if it becomes contagious. Look them in the eye during conversation. Give them your full attention. You'll find these kinds of proactive efforts to communicate with others are often reciprocated — people will do the same back to you. But if you find you're the only one who doesn't have their phone out, consider announcing this: "Let's try something. Everyone put your phone in the center of the table. First one to grab their phone has to do dishes/pay for the bill!"
Who knows? You might start a trend.
The smartphone is a great tool to connect with people outside the room, but only when it doesn't interfere with our relationships with the people inside the room.
Peek at your privacy settings.
Do you know who's peeking at you?
It was only a few months after her high school graduation when she got into the car with two of her friends that night in a small town in Washington State. She rode shotgun.
Both of her friends put on their seatbelts.
For some reason, she didn't.
The crash shouldn't have been a big deal. The belts saved the other two, but she was ejected from the vehicle and killed instantly.
It happens all the time; not to every kid or even every family, but every city has a story of a car wreck and the one person who didn't make it because they weren't wearing their seatbelt. Seatbelts save over two thousand lives a year.
That's probably why car companies, starting way back in January 1, 1968, were required by law to provide seatbelts in all seating positions. It wasn't until 1983 that laws kicked in to require people to actually wear them.
People whined and complained when this law was enforced. And there is always that one guy who will claim, "Yeah, but I heard you're safer without your belt! I've heard of someone being thrown from the car and that's what saved them!" (Something you'll never see on MythBusters.)
That's just like us. If it's inconvenient, then we complain about it.
Until it saves our life.
It was New Year's Eve and my cousin asked me if I wanted to go for a ride in his new BMW. I got into the car with him, and he began showing me "what the car could do." Next thing I knew, we were going over 70 miles an hour down a rural road.
I was growing concerned as he kept looking away from the road. He was more focused on the car's features than actually driving (something we'll talk about in greater detail later in the book).
"That's the automatic temperature control, that's the seatback adjustment, and that's the subwoofer control ..."
As he was messing with the radio trying to show me the voice commands, he began drifting to the side of the road.
The next few seconds seemed to happen in slow motion.
When he felt his wheel riding on the shoulder of the road, he looked up and turned the wheel sharply, overcorrecting toward oncoming traffic. After barely missing an oncoming car, he cranked the wheel back to try to regain control.
I don't remember the next sixty seconds.
We woke up on the side of the road upside down.
We were both wearing our seatbelts.
Apparently my cousin had cranked the wheel so hard at such a high speed that he flipped the car. We rolled several times and ended up in the ditch backward. The airbags never deployed.
When we took off our seatbelts, our inverted bodies dropped to the roof of the car — now the floor. As we crawled out of the car, unscathed, my cousin merely pointed to the underside of the car and said, "And that's the bottom of the car."
Nobody likes safety features ... until they protect you!
I KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE
A forty-four-year-old Los Angeles man was arrested last year for using the location information from people's Facebook and Instagram photos to break into people's homes and steal their underwear.
Yeah. True story. There is no way I could make this stuff up.
The man used several different methods. His favorite was hanging out in public places and waiting for people to "check in" on Facebook. Once he found someone of interest, he would follow their posts and look for clues as to where they lived. He also used this method to find people on Instagram and other social media apps. He simply looked for people who posted pictures with locations, then followed the GPS information to figure out where they lived. Then he would break into their house and steal their underwear ... sometimes just feet away from where they were sleeping.
The only reason he was able to do this was because these people didn't make use of their privacy settings.
Have you ever used or adjusted your privacy settings on your phone and other devices?
Remember when you first got your phone? What about when you downloaded your first app? Do you even remember looking at the privacy settings for any of your devices and/or social media accounts?