Leadership · Curriculum · Lifelong Learning

I love my phone; it’s a part of me. I can recall very few waking hours in the last few years where I was not using my phone. Is that SO bad? I don’t think so. Is my opinion app-ed to change once I become a father? Maybe. Facing our screens, let’s embrace this together.

We’ve all seen it—The classic illustration. That couple at dinner who don’t verbally talk to each other because their faces are all up in their phones. Immediately, you are… Disgusted? Horrified? Disappointed? Not me. I really like to see people connected, in multiple ways. Especially because when I glanced their way again ten minutes later, their phones were on the table—just an arm’s length away. They were laughing and sharing stories, verbally, which—to many—is still the only acceptable form of connecting in social spaces.

Are phones okay at dinner? Respond here!

So–What just happened right there? Why did they simultaneously glue their faces to their screens for a few minutes at dinner–in public? The answer is… Who knows? From long distance, I can only dial up potential scenarios.

What If the Couple Was:

1—In a group text conversation with a loved one in the hospital

2—Planning a romantic weekend together, exploring travel accommodations

3—Checking the forecast for their son’s soccer tournament

4—Reviewing updates (email remind, seesaw, feedback) from their daughter’s teachers

5—FaceTiming relatives in other time zones with baby announcement

6—Checking on their children’s locations and online activities

7—Double-checking a @Groupon order at this very restaurant before ordering

8—Reading alerts from their home security system

9—Ordering an @Uber or @Lyft, ensuring safe travels home

10—Answering urgent questions from their children’s babysitter

It’s fascinating to hear people SAY they want: “No phones (or devices) at the dinner table!” Dinnertime generates face-to-face conversations ranging from How Was Your Day… to… What Are We Doing This Weekend? So, should they go golfing or bowling on Saturday? Recent rumors rumbled around severe storms striking soon, but not exactly sure when. But now they’re stuck. Conversation dries up into a dramatic drought.


Compounding their constituted conundrum–they’re not allowed to check their phones for the updated weather forecast, personal google calendars, or golfing/bowling venue information. And there they sit—in their own free will—pretending like they don’t have the means to find answers to their questions in less than ten seconds, just an arms-length away. There they sit—manually rerouting well-traversed pathways in their brains, interrupting their autopilot, and taking their digital habits off of speed dial, just to: unlearn how to efficiently access and evaluate information; undo what they previously did and want to do right now; and unthink logical problem-solving strategies, using given resources available.

Maybe our faces shouldn’t be in our screens all the time. After all, some really can have ANALOGous Cups of Coffee. Some really are lucky enough to have The Real Social Space.

But we DO live in a connected, blended, hybrid world full of flashy things AND actual people. It’s not just about digital citizenship OR interpersonal skills. It’s not just about connecting thru a screen OR face-to-face. It’s BOTH. Because we live in a BOTH world. And BOTH isn’t going away.

How do you balance BOTH? I don’t know. But what I DO know, is that it’s NOT the device—It’s what we DO on our device. Our challenges are not with our tools; our challenges are with ourselves, and how we use our tools. If technology enhances conversations and is a positive learning resource, then the device is adding value. Ultimately—with or without devices—connecting is about intent, priority, presence, integrity, citizenship, relationships… It’s about how we treat each other.

2 Replies to “Put the Phone… Down?”

  • Kyle wrote:

    Ultimately—with or without devices—connecting is about intent, priority, presence, integrity, citizenship, relationships… It’s about how we treat each other.


    This is the key point, Kyle. Intent, priority, presence all matter most when making decisions about whether or not to pick up the phone when you are with other people.

    But I’d argue that you need to add another word to your list: Transparency.

    All too often, I’m in meetings with people — or at dinner with people, or getting a beer with people — and they pick up their phones 37 times to do SOMETHING. I have no idea what they are doing, though — and that makes it hard to judge “intent, priority and presence.” It certainly makes me feel less valued.

    If I make the time to be with you and you spend that time wrapped in your device without any explanation, I’m going to second guess my decision to make time for you in the future. The most valuable gift that we give to people is our time and our presence. Spending that time “somewhere else” — even if that “somewhere” is inside of our phones — cheapens the experience.

    And I’d argue that transparency is even MORE important when you are a parent using a device in front of a child. You generated a list of 14 things that the people on the devices in the picture you posted here MIGHT be doing. The fact of the matter is that a child — especially kids who are under 10 — couldn’t generate that same list. All that they see when mom/dad is buried in a phone screen is something that is more interesting than them.

    And that’s heartbreaking.

    Need another example? Go back and look at the picture you posted. Who is the only person NOT buried in a screen?

    Grandma, right?

    Imagine how she’s feeling right now if all of her table mates haven’t been transparent about what they are doing on their devices. Here she is trying to enjoy a meal with her family members and they aren’t fully present with her at all. That has to feel like a loss to her, right? If they haven’t been transparent, she’s feeling ignored. Guaranteed.

    Final nudge: Every one of the items on the list of things that the people on devices in the picture that you posted was a positive thing. That reveals your own bias about devices. We see all the positive things they CAN do before we question their role in our lives.

    To be fair, you need to also list the negative things those people might be doing, too. Checking their Instagram feeds, reading yet ANOTHER article about Trump and Sessions, making a post to Facebook, making plans with someone else, watching a YouTube video about silly cats.

    All of those things are disrespectful to the people that you are physically present with — and I’d be willing to bet that at least HALF of the people in your picture are doing those things instead of enjoying their table mates.

    I guess I prioritize face-to-face time. It is worth more to me because people — in the midst of incredibly busy lives — had to create space for it. More importantly, they chose to give that time to me instead of the other important people in their lives. When I get together with someone, that’s time I’m not spending with my own wife or my own kid or on my own couch drinking a good beer and watching a game. Instead, I invested it in you.

    As a result, I don’t think it’s asking too much for people to put their devices down for an hour or two and to give their whole selves to each other — or at least to be transparent when their devices pull them away.

    Any of this make sense?

    • Bill! You nailed it! So many great points! Right on. What’s funny (not funny) is that this is a real life visit with Grandma this weekend, and you are exactly right!

      I only listed positive, because I WANT to believe others make good judgments, they have good hearts, and I want to give them the benefit of the doubt. I want to believe only positive because I am biased for using technology for the good. Your response has inspired me to post a follow-up blog in which I will reflect on the negative potential, although very painful it will be. Thanks for responding!

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