You’ve heard of the expression, “the apple of my eye?” That quaint phrase refers to one person speaking lovingly about another. With the Jewish high holy days bearing down, and introspection ramping up, it’s too juicy to resist reflecting on the significance of the unveiling of the newest model iPhones on its10-year anniversary . Have we substituted having an “apple of my eye,” for the “i” of my Apple? Have we decided that a relationship with an object as seductive as a new iPhone is more valuable than a deep relationship with another human being?
At first, that may sound absurd. But while the iPhone has more than delivered on its promise to empower people to connect socially with others easily, it has simultaneously impaired our ability to form relationships, along with a list of contributing competitor smartphones. Consider the following facts:
- Those who research teens and the elderly have found strikingly similar response rates of individuals who self-report as “lonely” or “isolated” – approximately 40% (see for example, Search Institute’s Relationships First: Creating Connections That Help Young People Thrive, and linkAges™, Highlights from Linkages Community Evaluation for data on older adults);
- “Suicide in the United States has surged to the highest levels in nearly 30 years, a federal data analysis has found, with increases in every age group except older adults” (New York Times, Sabrina Tavernise, April 22, 2016, “U.S. Suicide Rate Surges to a 30-Year High”);
- and, a professor of psychology who researches generational differences, Jean M. Twenge, answers her question that she poses in a provocative article, “Have Smart Phones Destroyed a Generation? (The Atlantic, September 2017 online edition)?, with an unequivocal “yes.” In that piece, she notes that, “A 2017 survey of more than 5,000 American teens found that three out of four owned an iPhone.”
According to Statista, “As of the last reported period, Apple announced that 180 billion apps had been downloaded from its App Store” between July 2008 to June 2017. Ironically, the iPhone has increasingly created what I would call “social inaptitude,” social isolation and loneliness. Sherry Turkle, Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at M.I.T., has researched how smartphones have contributed to a decrease in empathy – the foundation of any relationship.
I don’t want to dismiss the tremendous good that smart phones and similar devices have provided us. As I watch the devastating effects of hurricanes like Harvey and Irma in horror, or other natural or humanly-created disasters, smart phones and social media apps have been indispensable in providing critical information. For those unable to physically participate in a family celebration, they can now be a part of the experience thanks to live streaming technologies that are available on a smart phone. Elderly great-grandparents who may have difficulty with air travel can at least interact in a limited way with their great grandchildren who live in another city. And entrepreneurial individuals in developing countries can grow a business through the use of a smart phone. All of these phenomena are breathtaking and worthy of celebrating-thank you, Apple!
But celebration also invites reflection, and alarming statistics from multiple, respected sources point to the degrading effects of smart phones on our interpersonal relationships. I know people who have become emotionally depleted by tracking their social media activity, while they could be energized instead by deepening a few friendships. So here’s a suggestion: hit the pause button before you use your current smart phone, or rush to purchase your new iPhone, and have a face-to-face conversation with another person first. If you want to project an image, having the iPhone X will certainly earn you the credibility of being “cutting-edge.” But if you want to reflect God’s image, you’ll find it by looking into another person’s eyes, and starting a conversation.