Seeing one another face to face, how to put your phone down

My oldest daughter and I went on a dinner date for sushi this week. Fabulous. There are very few things better than spending legit quality time with an amazing person, especially when that amazing person is your child. Our conversations were light and free and we spoke about a wide range of topics, including the Lakers’ impending return to prominence.

Sitting at the table next to us was a nice looking couple out for the evening. I was struck by the fact that though they were physically together, they were not actually together. The man was completely absorbed by his cell phone. I’m not really sure what he was looking at, but it clearly garnered more of his attention than he gave to his wife. When their food arrived, he set the phone down, though the screen was still illuminated, and we watched to see if they would begin talking to each other. The lady’s rainbow roll must have been delicious because she immediately took out her cell phone and began snapping photos of it to post on Instagram. They ate mostly in silence and were gone in less than an hour.

This is not anything that we haven’t all seen, shoot, it’s not anything that we haven’t all done, but somewhere in the depths of my soul it rang out as so wrong that night. In Genesis we read that human beings are made in the image and after the likeness of God (Gen 1.26). We are created to reflect God’s image in our lives and to act the way God acts. And so we look to God to learn what that means: In Orthodox theology, we refer to the three persons of the Trinity, not the three individuals. While that may seem like trite semantics, using the term “person” over “individual” reveals how we understand God: that He functions in relationship. Persons have relationship with other persons; individuals suffer alone on deserted islands. So in order for us to live like God, one of the first things we must do is to have relationship with other human beings. And to do that, we’ve got to put the phones down!

I know that’s not easy, I’m guilty of it as well. We’ve built new neurological connections in our brains and we reach for the phone out of habit, sometimes not even conscious we’re doing so. We get nervous that our kids may not be safe and we have to check on them. We don’t want to miss a business opportunity so we answer every call. Heaven forbid someone think we’re ignoring him so we respond to every text or email as they come in. And of course, everyone needs to see how amazing my wagyu burger with truffle aioli and arugula looks, so just a quick post to Insta. All of this happening while face to face with another human being. When this happens, we have reverted to being an individual and are no longer a person.

Below is a short list of some of the hacks you can try to conquer this monster.

  1. Start by remembering that the person right in front of you is more important at that moment than any other person not in front of you. It’s about mindset to be sure. God made the person in front of you and he or she matters to Him. They can matter to you too.
  2. Leave your phone in the car.
  3. Turn your ringer AND vibrate off when you’re with another person.
  4. Mute the notifications on your Apple Watch or Fitbit. It’s just as brutal for another person to witness you look down at your watch and see the text as it is to pull out your phone and address it. You send a message of “something more important popped up but I’m going to pretend to give you attention even though it will be bouncing around in my brain for the rest of our conversation and I won’t really be interested in what you’re saying”.
  5. Keep the phone in your purse or pocket. Even with the phone on mute or upside down, when it sits on the table in front of you, it’s a subconscious reminder to everyone present that something seemingly more important is lurking out there.
  6. When your conversation partner gets up to use the restroom, pull out your phone super quickly to check for your emergencies but then make sure it’s back in your pocket before they return.
  7. Schedule time blocks in the day for phone use. This one is powerful. I actually schedule appointments during each day when I read and respond to email. Though I’m certainly not perfect at it, I’ve found my productivity skyrockets when I do.
  8. Be humble enough to remember that you’re probably not as important as you think you are, and try to look the other person in their eyes. Connection, understanding and love can happen.

So come on Warrior Saints™, let’s work on this one together. Let our phones be tools and not monsters. Let the human being in front of you be a person and not an individual. And as we read in 3John 15: I hope to see you soon and we will talk together face to face.