Personal interactions continue despite cellphone use

Q: My husband recently took me on what the young people today might call a date night.

We ate at one of the more elegant cafes, and it was wonderful. But during the evening, the two of us saw something that we thought was somewhat distressing. A young couple came to the table next to ours shortly after we were seated.

The moment they sat down she reached into her purse to get her cellphone while he pulled out the same from his suit jacket. They were each on their cellphones most of the night. I swear that they did not speak more than a half dozen words to each other.

Is this what the world is coming to? Is everyone so caught up in their cellphones, or whatever electronics they can find, that they do not have time for old-fashioned interpersonal talking, hugging and loving each other? What is all of this coming to?

A: I do not think that there is any doubt that you and your husband stumbled on what is perhaps the most significant social change that the modern world has ever seen.

Cellphones are everywhere. At one time we took solace by focusing on teenagers and the belief that this was something limited to adolescent indiscretion.

Any number of discussions worried about cyber-bullying, academic performance and the demise of the family or the extent to which cellphones disturbed family life during the supper hour.

However, the impact of cellphones has gone way beyond adolescence. A recent survey is claiming that nine out of every 10 adults have a cellphone. Most people check their cellphones an average of once every 12 minutes, or 80 times a day.

They call each other, send text messages, and make sure that the world has access to pictures of their grandchildren. The cellphone is here to stay and it is here for everyone.

The positive side throughout all of this is that the world, in the global economy and pervasive to the international community, is more connected than it has ever been. Think about it. When you were a young person your family had a rotary phone for everyone in the house to share. That meant one out of every four or five people had access to a phone. That is a lot different than the nine out of every 10 we see chatting away on today’s networks, and doing so despite their countries of origin. Isn’t it great that granny can connect with her grandchildren far, far away once weekly and watch them while they are chatting to her?

The downside of the cellphone is that many are concerned that the phone is displacing interpersonal contact.

I think that what you saw in the café is not unusual. But our studies are not as scary as are your observations. People still interact and they do so with more regularity than they have previously. Those who are fixated on a piece of plastic (which is all that a cellphone is) are mostly the same people who were socially isolated in the high school cafeteria when they were kids. We need to work with those who are struggling socially, to encourage them to move more frequently into interpersonal contact, but we do not need to take away their cellphones. The more we are able to facilitate their social development the less likely they will waste a beautiful evening in a gorgeous café obsessed to their cellphones. And maybe then they will be open to that moment of love that has obviously brightened your life.

Jacklin Andrews is a family counsellor from Saskatchewan. Contact: jandrews@producer.com.

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