This is the first article in a three-part series.  Read part two and part three.

You’re driving down a city street and find yourself stuck behind someone going 15 mph below the speed limit.  What’s your first thought?  That guy needs to get off his cell phone!

You’re sitting in the stands at a high school football game.  You notice that many of the students are not only ignoring the game but they’re also ignoring the friends seated beside them—instead they are busy texting other friends.

You walk through an airport concourse and notice a man pacing back and forth, waving his hands while he talks on his cell phone in a voice that bounces off the walls 30 yards away.  You think, That’s why I hope they never allow people to make calls with their cell phones on a flight.   

Sound familiar?  In the last 15 years the cell phone has conquered the world.  I could make a list of 50 ways these phones have improved our lives.   But if you’re like me and can remember what life was like before we all got cell phones, you may wonder if all the changes are really for the good.

Remember those days when you could go to a movie—or to church—and not worry about being distracted by ringing phones or by the white glow of someone texting a friend?  Remember when meetings at work weren’t interrupted by phone calls that people just had to accept?

And here’s one more scene we all see regularly:

You walk into a restaurant and you notice a couple seated near you.  And you notice that they really are not enjoying this opportunity to be together, because one is patiently waiting for the other to stop talking or texting on the cell phone.  And you think, How sad that they aren’t talking to each other.

Adjusting to a new technology is nothing new.  Electricity, automobiles, telephones, radio, television, computers, and many other new inventions sparked significant changes in our culture and in the way we related to our spouses, our children, and our friends.  But the pace of change since 1995 has been breathtaking.  We’ve seen the emergence of the internet and of mobile phones, and then the convergence of the two.  We can now be plugged in wherever we are, 24/7.

The technology is evolving so quickly that most of us are barely aware of how our behavior is changing.  But we’re starting to wake up.  Over the last couple years I’ve noticed an increasing number of articles and books on topics like, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, “Attached to Technology and Paying a Price”, and “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?”.

An interesting article that caught my attention recently is, “The Flight from Conversation,” an opinion piece in the New York Times.  Sherry Turkle, an author and professor at MIT, writes of her concern that our new ability to connect easily through the web and through cell phones is causing many to forget the importance of conversation in developing a strong relationship.

Over the past 15 years, I’ve studied technologies of mobile connection and talked to hundreds of people of all ages and circumstances about their plugged-in lives.  I’ve learned that the little devices most of us carry around are so powerful that they change not only what we do, but also who we are. …

Human relationships are rich; they’re messy and demanding.  We have learned the habit of cleaning them up with technology.  And the move from conversation to connection is part of this.  But it’s a process in which we shortchange ourselves.  Worse, it seems that over time we stop caring; we forget that there is a difference.

We are tempted to think that our little “sips” of online connection add up to a big gulp of real conversation.  But they don’t.  E-mail, Twitter, Facebook, all of these have their places—in politics, commerce, romance and friendship.  But no matter how valuable, they do not substitute for conversation.

The drift from conversation to connectivity—from “talking to texting”—should be a concern for any married couple and for any parent.  Other technologies—particularly television—have distracted us from conversation for many years, but recent advances give us the option to replace it.  And how can you develop and maintain a strong relationship with your spouse or anyone else in your family if you aren’t talking to each other?

Some parents are starting to wonder whether their teenage children—obsessively focused on texting—are falling behind in their verbal and relational skills.  Turkle writes, “A 16-year-old boy who relies on texting for almost everything says almost wistfully, ‘Someday, someday, but certainly not now, I’d like to learn how to have a conversation.’”  Think he may need to learn that little skill before he gets married?

I’ve got more to say about this, but I’d love to get some feedback from you as well.  What do you think of the rapid changes we’ve seen in technology and how they have affected marriage and family life?  Do you think I’m too concerned?  Have you done anything to establish some limits in how you use web and cell phone technology in your family?  Tell me your thoughts in the comments section below, and I’ll use them in an upcoming issue of Marriage Memo.

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