Phones are people, too—right? It’s time we all updated our relationship status on Facebook to “It’s complicated” with “my phone.” We sleep next to them and check on them all the time. Often we’ll even go to meals with them.
Earlier this week, I participated in a practice all too common in our dining halls: I had a meal with my phone—just my iPhone and me at Frank Dining Hall one morning having an omelette together. But it wasn’t just my phone and me—it was all of my Facebook friends and the people I was texting, too. They wouldn’t have fit at the table, but they all fit in my phone.
Are 16 gigabytes, a couple dozen apps, and 3G wireless really an adequate or even appropriate substitute for human contact? Is this really the kind of relationship we want?
Cell phones are powerful communication tools, and, for better or worse, they’ve changed our lives. But maybe it’s time to friend-zone the phone, especially because it is affecting our real relationships with real people.
In his social critique “The End of Solitude,” essayist William Deresiewicz writes that the contemporary self “wants to be visible,” causing us to “live exclusively in relation to others.”
Deresiewicz tells us that celebrity and connectivity are the ways in which the contemporary self strives to become known. The kind of celebrity that we see today is no longer a thing of mystery—it is a thing of publicity and disclosure. In order to be popular and connected, one has to lay it all out there. The famous people who share their secrets are the ones who make the cover of magazines and the ones who have the most followers on Twitter.
Deresiewicz bemoans the loss of solitude in our lives. Along with solitude, we’ve lost our privacy as a result of our culture’s fascination with visibility, celebrity, and connectivity.
Privacy is no longer the default setting in our lives. We share our photos, feelings, and accomplishments on social networking sites such as Facebook. We even broadcast the details of our personal lives by updating relationship statuses. The idea that one is anonymous online is a fallacy and an illusion—we are more visible and accessible than ever before.
Hordes of people are only a wall post, a click, or a text away, and this is affecting the way in which we relate to one another. The immediacy of these modern methods of communication lends itself to the assumption that we should know what is going on in other people’s lives. And this belief that we should know about other people’s lives often translates into an assumption that we are entitled to know.
The flip side of this belief is the idea that we should tell other people about our lives and that we must tell other people about what is going on with us.
As little kids, we learned from Barney and friends that sharing is caring. Now it seems that we can’t stop sharing personal information, and we expect that other people will return the favor. We live in a world of over-sharers, and the standard expectation is that we are privy to most details of our friends’ lives.
With such immediate access to so many people, we’ve begun to take that immediacy and efficacy for granted. There is an expectation that people will text right back, will automatically like our status, or will share their feelings with us as soon as they have them because it is now so easy to do.
Novelist Stephen King wrote, “Friends don’t spy; true friendship is about privacy, too.”
He is right. Caring doesn’t always mean sharing. It often means respecting and maintaining healthy boundaries. Facebook-stalking others is not the best way to get to know them.
Our phones are always nearby, and they make communicating with people easier. But with this ease in communication, there has come an assumption that we will always be ready and willing to communicate. This is not the case.
Friend-zoning the phone doesn’t necessarily mean using it any less than you use it now; it simply means recognizing that it’s not an accurate representation of human interaction, and that it can instead distort human connections by creating an illusion of minimal boundaries.
To quote nonfiction writer Anne Lamott, “‘No.’ is a complete sentence.”
Just because the communication tools are available for our use, that doesn’t mean that we are always obliged to share. We do not always have to answer the questions asked of us. The next time Facebook asks you, “What’s on your mind?” when you log in, you don’t have to reply. Just because our friends are a click away does not mean that it is necessary for them to tell us everything about themselves.