Turn Off the Screen

There are a number of articles that have been published digging into how the social fabric of our culture is changing based on social media. The Atlantic published an article called “Is Facebook Making us Lonely?,” which is a long read but very challenging to our understanding about the impact of technology and social media.

Smart phones, tablets, and laptops have met and created a demand for instant communication, postings, and status updates. A friend mentioned to me the other day that he felt naked without his iPhone in his pocket (he’d left it at home earlier in the day). It was a joke, but it was truth. We don’t know what to do with ourselves when we are all alone. If we have technology and have a few moments to kill it’s really easy to check twitter, Facebook, or our favorite news site.

Is using technology stealing time from your relationships?
We all have a need to connect with others, and smartphones fill in that need really well. But in reality, they don’t. When we shut off the screen, we’re right back to where we started—alone.

I fall victim to this as well. I’ve been a smartphone owner for 6+ years now, and there are days that I wish these little boxes had never been created. Sure, they’re great for keeping tons of information in one place, replacing our need to carry a calendar, camera, address book, and more. But they’re an every present distraction.

I’ve noticed that my own tendency to use my iPhone comes when I’m need to escape. Most of the time I notice this at home. After a long day at work, I get to go home and work some more. The demands of relationships at home are ever present. Some days I do not want to engage because of the constant pull from my family. Sometimes I resent them for this and will steal 5-10 minutes with my iPhone or iPad. These devices are always on, available, and ready for me when I need them. They’ve taken the place of the dog as man’s best friend.

How do you set boundaries?
To combat the illusion of being connected, and my tendency to escape, I’ve established two rules for my use of technology. The first is that I don’t use technology (television, phones, computers, etc) after getting home from work until the kids are in bed. This is generally the only time of the day that I get a chance to spend quality time with the kids and I’ve stolen too many minutes from them as it is.

Instead of escaping to a screen, I’ll try to sit in the chair and breathe, go outside, or do something constructive (clean, organize, sweep, etc). This rule keeps in the present moment with my wife and kids. I have to guard from grabbing my phone so I can take a picture to share with my twitter followers, or checking on the latest sports score. I will miss out on enjoying a moment with my kids if I’m trying to find my phone to take a picture.

Secondly, I’ve established that my bed is not a place for connected devices. After the obligations of the day are over, it’s really easy for my wife and I to grab our laptops and go sit in bed and not speak 5 words to one another. It’s not because we don’t want to speak to each other, but because we have disconnected from reality and connected into somewhere else (usually Facebook). Left unattended, we could sit there like that for an hour, easy. So we don’t bring our laptops, phones, etc, to bed unless we’re working together on a project that requires us to interact together (even then, it’s really hard to be connected when we’re both staring into a different screen).

Having a television in the bedroom with cable or satellite falls under this category as well. I can’t imagine a more intrusive and interrupting object than a television turned on in the bedroom. Turn it off and take the TV out of the bedroom. Your sex life, communication, and intimacy will thank you.

Establishing boundaries like this in your relationships will help keep the relational clutter out of your lives. You’ll talk and spend more time doing things together that otherwise would be interrupted by the constant barrage of TV shows, social media, games, or other technology-related items that promise connection and deliver emptiness.


Samuel Rainey is a professional counselor primarily working with couples, men, and women addressing issues of sexuality, emotional health, relationships, and spirituality. He is the co-Author of So You Want to be a Teenager with Thomas Nelson. He earned his Masters in Counseling Psychology from The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology in Seattle, Washington. When he is not roasting coffee, tending to his garden, or playing golf, he blogs about life process, parenting, and relationships at SamuelRainey.com. He can also be found on twitter @SamuelRainey. He and his wife reside in the suburbs of Nashville, Tennessee with their four children.

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