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| 3 min read | by Doug Marrin,dmarrin@thesuntimesnews.com |

Photo by Helena Lopes from Pexels

Tech-shaming has made us believe that human interaction should be purely organic or not at all. That’s a sad thought, and I implore you from this moment on to absolve yourself of any guilt over using gadgets around other people.

“Look around, everybody here is on their phone,” a friend said scornfully during a recent lunch. “Nobody talks anymore.”

I looked around at the people sitting across from each other with their faces in their phones and then carefully slid my Pixel 3 back into my pocket where I had been sneaking it out. I hadn’t thought about it until then, but I didn’t want to talk either. The stuff on my phone is more interesting – checking messages, Reddit, or how many times an article had been clicked that day. I could happily not talk for hours.

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Tech-shamming is a common complaint and it’s bumming us out. The real burn is that if you’re caught using a gadget, in moments when prior cultures were forced into conversation with one another, because there was no tech, you’re somehow shallow and weak.

I’ve had enough of that, maybe you too. And take note, tech-shaming is always about other people using their gadgets. Technology is advancing faster than a viral outbreak and it does have a few similarities to the Zombie Apocalypse in that it animates some otherwise corpses, but it is not the 5th Horseman of the Apocalypse (… and Gadget was his name causing the rich of the earth to ignore each other …) ushering in the end of all things.

Since it doesn’t look like the technology trend is going to reverse anytime soon, maybe we can find ways to use it to our advantage. Maybe we can just scroll with the changes.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find any support for the use of technology in face-to-face moments, however. A 2014 Elon University study looked at the impact technology was having on face-to-face communication. Not surprisingly, the research “provided evidence that the rapid expansion of technology is negatively affecting face-to-face communication.”

The report went on to say, “People are becoming more reliant on communicating with friends and family through technology and are neglecting to engage personally, uninhibited by phones and devices, even when actually in the presence of others. A majority of individuals felt the quality of their conversations degraded in the presence of technology, and many individuals were bothered when friends or family used technology while spending time together.”

Sad face emoji.

OK, OK, we don’t need a study to tell us that we’re losing the old-fashioned art of face-to-face interaction, but don’t blame the latest wave of gizmos; the real problem has always been there.

Pete Emhoff lives in Dexter and makes a living largely from face-to-face conversations. His ministry, True Pursuit, focuses on partnering with men to repair and rediscover their faith. In his work, he has seen the impact technology has had on personal encounters but believes the heart of the problem is not the gadgets.

“It’s easy to look across the room and see a child with on an iPad and a dad on his iPhone and think, ‘They’re not talking. My gosh, that’s terrible’” says Pete. “But what is the difference between that and 30 years ago when a dad read the newspaper at the table and the kid playing with a toy or read the cereal box? The problem is relational at heart and has always been there. It’s just easier these days to say it’s the phone’s fault.”

Pete Emhoff meets a lot of folks over a cup of coffee

It is human nature to resist change and lament the way things were. But if the only constant is change, and change is a revelation, then I say when it comes to technology, “viva la revolución”. But as we intrepidly carpe diem gizmos, let’s not lose sight of the bigger screenshot. What if devices can actually improve our interpersonal moments?

My own daughter, Candice, and I do a lot of things together. Our phones go with us. We look at our phones everywhere – theaters, restaurants, cider mills, trampoline parks, and in the truck getting to these places. We bring technology into the moment sharing funny Facebook comments, messages, and Reddit posts. These provide endless conversation starters for when all of the “How’s work?” talk is finished.

I’ll give my grandsons them a phone to play while we’re waiting for food or something. They play. We’re quiet. You know what doesn’t happen? I don’t waterboard them about school, home, and other stuff they aren’t interested in talking about. If I want to get them talking, I ask them about Roblox and they’ll talk right through the meal and on the way back home. The phone is my portal into their exciting world.

Instead of zits as a teen, my nephew broke out in a series of OtterBoxes. All we saw of his face for about 6 years was the back of his phone when we went to restaurants and gatherings. But you know what? He went, willingly, and with his phone. Partially engaged is so much better than resentfully engaged. Now at 20, he and I have great conversations with no phones in sight. Thank goodness I didn’t ruin things back then.

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

I interviewed a former major league pitcher a couple of weeks ago about kids in sports (article coming). He’s in Florida, and we did it via video chat. It was not so much different than sitting across from each other. Technology created a face-to-face that otherwise would have been missed.

Sure, some decorum is a reasonable expectation when it comes to using a gadget. Adults are different than kids or teens, hopefully more mature with the discretion to put a leash on iPhone use when meeting to catch up.

After reading that last paragraph again, understand that my point is that technology is evolving our culture. Rather than rage against the machines, how are we going to adapt?

“We all are created for connection,” says Pete. We’re relational to the core. Whether we’re an introvert or an extrovert, we still need connection with other human beings. We need affirmation, validation encouragement, love, and nurturing.”

So if that’s a problem, no need to blame the phone or those who use it.

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