The Evolution of Communication
Rummaging through a box of old photographs the other day, I ran across a fresh-faced young man standing beside a Honda station wagon, proudly brandishing what looks like a large, white brick. The young man was me, and the brick was my very first cellphone. It wasn’t mine exactly. It was the first mobile phone ever purchased by my company, and I was permitted to carry it into the field on special assignments.
Not long after that photo was taken, I was granted a flip-phone, a marvel of cellular technology with a battery life of about 30 minutes. Eventually, when cellphones became more affordable, I leased a second one for my wife, making it possible for me to find her in the mall.
Do you remember when you saw your first smartphone? When the iPhone debuted on June 29, 2007, one of my techno-geek friends, who is an inveterate early adopter of all things Apple, showed me the gizmo he had waited in line for hours to buy. He held me hostage for an hour or so, rapturously demonstrating the iPhone’s dazzling abilities. This pocket-sized marvel and its magical touch screen, he said, were going to change the world. I had no idea how right he was.
This pocket-sized marvel and its magical touch screen, he said, were going to change the world. I had no idea how right he was.
I was in recovery from porn addiction at the time, calling my sponsor daily and keeping in touch with other friends using my reliable flip-phone. I was in no hurry to jump aboard the smartphone bandwagon. I didn’t even consider getting one of those fancy phones until friends started complaining that I was not responding to their texts. I managed to resist buying one for years but finally caved after my publisher began bugging me to start posting on something called Facebook.
Authentic Relationships In A Smartphone World
I should have seen the danger. I should have known that the purveyors of pornography would recognize the potential of the 5-inch screen and seize the opportunity to expand their audience. The destructive effects of the smartphone would increase exponentially in 2008, when streaming technology made it possible for users to view porn without downloading it, and another levee would burst in 2012 with the arrival of Tinder and a flood of hookup apps.
Even for those of us who manage to steer clear of its sexual quagmires, the smartphone offers a tempting alternative to authentic relationships.
Even for those of us who manage to steer clear of its sexual quagmires, the smartphone offers a tempting alternative to authentic relationships. Today, for example, I have 4,957 close, personal friends on Facebook. I give these people carefully curated glimpses of my life, images I want them to envy or admire, and I watch the scenes from their lives that they allow me to see. Sometimes our disclosures are artless—recipes gone wrong, ugly grandchildren, hospital selfies—but most of the time, it feels like we are performing for each other, and the connection feels plastic.
The 5-inch screen is a window, not a door.
Here’s the thing. The 5-inch screen is a window, not a door. Yes, it is possible for me to communicate through a window if I am intentional about it and if the person on the other side of the glass is genuinely willing to engage. A prophylactic connection is better than nothing, and I am grateful that FaceTime and Zoom have succeeded in keeping me semi-sane during the dark days of the pandemic.
Still, it is never easy to be vulnerable when I am engaging in life through a 5-inch window. I am always tempted to retreat into dishonesty or passivity behind the protection of the glass, to become a performer or a voyeur while on my phone. So, as grateful as I am to be carrying around a 5-inch window, I am still looking for ways to get beyond the glass and engage directly with real people.
I am still looking for doors.