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Thank you for your phoneless time

November 1, 2016
Patrick Ward , MOV Parent

In the last ten years, its become commonplace to try and have a real-life conversation while also looking at our phones. How do you feel when you are the one who is trying to get someone to fully listen to you, but they are half-distracted by the small glowing screen in their hand? I feel frustrated and slightly hurt because it seems like no one is listening. How do you feel when you are the one who is half listening to the person speaking but also looking up something or texting someone on your phone? I feel distracted and just a bit annoyed when I'm that guy. How often do you actually carry on a face-to-face conversation without looking at your phone every 5 minutes, just out of habit?

I know I've written about this issue of technology in the family quite a bit, but it keeps coming up as a major concern for the families I work with. As a society, we have become quite addicted to our screens. In 2015, Pew Internet Research reported on a survey in which 92 percent of teens report going online daily, with 24 percent saying their use is "almost constant." 52 percent report several times a day they access the internet and social media from their phones. This demonstrates that interactions through social media (texting, facebook, snapchat, etc) have become a highly valued means of communicating. Face-to-face interactions have become markedly devalued as a result. Its obvious this is true when we pull out our phones to answer a text while someone is right there talking to us. Sherry Turkle, author of "Alone Together," says that what is happening is that we expect more from technology and less from each other.

What happens to us when face-to-face interactions become less important? What happens to our marriages, families and communities? Sherry Turkle says our smart phone devices "not only change what we do, they change who we are."

We deny each other of our full attention and we end up hiding from each other. We prefer interaction through technology because it can be more controlled than face-to-face, which is happening in real-time and can't be edited for better presentation. What is happening is that we are losing confidence in each other and looking more to our technological devices to really "be there" for us.

Does this concern you? Do you ever wonder where all this technology is taking us? So far, it seems to be taking us away from each other while giving us the illusion that we are connected. Sherry Turkle says the more we get away from real conversations, the less we really know and understand each other. When we allow technology to have priority over face-to-face, we lose out on learning about each other in deeper and more meaningful ways. Its actually been shown that we lose our abilities to make memories when we are engaged in our phones rather than engaging in the moment of reality we are really in.

So here's a challenge for you as we enter into prime holiday time, when almost everybody has a chance for more real face-to-face conversations. Family gatherings offer the perfect opportunity to fully attentive in your interactions. Turn your phone off. Leave it in the car. Be present in the moment . Allow yourself to feel awkward when no one is talking to you for a minute. Really listen when someone is talking to you. You'll have a chance to really be connected. Be deliberate about this. I guarantee if you do this, you'll remember more about your holiday gatherings. Your family will be stronger for it.

Patrick Ward, Ph.D. is a marriage and family therapist in Parkersburg. Visit his website at



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