Communication devices are valuable tools to develop our natural sociability: they allow us to stay in touch with people far away, to know new realities, to move to fields of knowledge that we might never have otherwise approached. So it could be said that these tools break down barriers, space-time barriers and cultural barriers. However, it is possible that those same tools become an obstacle to authentic communication.

From aggregation to isolation

Books, radio, TV, computers, mobile phones, video games, or tablets are tools that, if properly used, promote aggregation and sharing. Yet they can produce exactly the opposite effect, becoming the cause of isolation.

Who hasn’t seen a group of kids at a party, in a square or in a restaurant, all together, yet each one alone on their cell phones?

How many children spend their days locked in the house, alone, in front of TV, a computer, or PlayStation instead of socializing with their peers?

And who – upon seeing a beautiful landscape or a monument, hasn’t thought first about photographing it (and maybe posting it on his favourite social network) before really contemplating it and sharing their feelings and thoughts with those next to them?

These are just examples of how tools designed to unite each other can, on the contrary, create distance.

The barriers created by cell phones

One of the tools that in everyday life can “create barriers” between us is, without a doubt, the cell phone.

We don’t want to launch an attack on smartphones here (often it is the way use we use things that makes them “good” or not), but it is worth remembering that the risk of addiction is always lurking.

Just think, on average we start using smartphones at 7:23am and end at 23:21pm, for approximately 3 hours a day. These hours multiplied by seven days of the week is almost 24 hours. In practice, it is like spending a full day at a week interacting with our phone.

Recent studies confirm that cellular dependence is now a widespread phenomenon in every advanced country, regardless of age, sex, and social status: instead of becoming a tool to support interaction with others, it has becomes a tool to handle our relationships remotely. In this way it is possible that communication by telephone replaces real communication, the technical instrument overriding reality.

How the simplicity of children can bring us back to reality

What showed me the extent to which these instruments are hindering authentic communication – more than any study – was my son.

In his spontaneity (this is a baby only a few months old), he managed to make me understand the negative relationship I had with technology.

Not long ago, like every newborn, he began to give his first smiles: a wonderful sight. But instead of enjoying the adorable dumb grins, I immediately armed myself with a cell phone to immortalize those moments.

When my son found himself looking at a smartphone screen instead of his mother, he stopped smiling.

“No more laughs, darling?” I asked, looking at him. He then laughed again.

So, I picked up my cell phone and tried again to take a photo.

Again, he stopped smiling in front of my smartphone.

At that moment I understood a truth (especially in an era like ours, where we often become victims of the “real-time sharing” fanaticism): he wanted to smile at me, his mom, in flesh and blood.

He smiled because he saw me, because I gave him security. He smiled at me but had no reason to show joy and amazement if he found a lifeless tool in front of me. The cell phone, useful in so many cases, at that moment had become an obstacle between us, its presence between his face and my face made our communication less authentic.

At that moment – more than ever – I realized that sometimes you have to leave your smartphone in your pocket and simply enjoy the smile of those next to us.

Cecilia Galatolo writes for Family and Media, where this article was first published. Republished with permission