A couple weeks ago, I was sitting in traffic on my way home from work (yay for living in Atlanta). I was just minding my own business, enjoying my jam session to Taylor Swift, when I looked to my right and noticed something.
There was a couple, seemingly married, sitting at a table outside a local restaurant. The weather was great, perfect for an evening out. Their dog was chilling out underneath the table as they casually sipped on some sweet tea. It looked like the picture-perfect date night.
Except for one thing.
They were both on their phones.
I sat at the red light next to the restaurant for two or three rotations. Not once during those few minutes did this couple even look up at each other, much less actually put their phones down. In fact, I don’t recall seeing them even talk to each other. They just sat there in silence, seeming perfectly content with staring at a screen instead of engaging with each other.
I’m sorry, but that just doesn’t seem right to me.
When did it become acceptable to pay more attention to your phone than to your dinner date?
I remembered the time I went out with a new guy during freshman year of college. It was our first date, so you’d think it'd be common courtesy to be pretty attentive, but no, not this guy. He walked in the door talking on his phone. He scrolled through social media while we waited in line to order, barely taking the time to look up. He was texting other people throughout the entire meal, and in between texts, he was browsing through Twitter. I cut the dinner short and made up an excuse to leave because I was so annoyed.
Unfortunately, I’m sure that guy isn’t the only one who’s ever done that. I know I’m guilty of the same thing. Maybe not on a date, but I know I’ve done that in plenty of other scenarios.
I recently went out to dinner with my family. At one point during the meal, my mom pointed out that she, my dad, my brother, my sister, my sister's boyfriend and I were all looking at our phones and no one was talking. We all looked up and kind of laughed, but the more I thought about it, the sadder I became that this situation has become a societal norm.
Our phones have become our crutch. Whenever there’s silence, we pick up the phone and start scrolling, searching for anything that will rescue us from even the slightest ounce of discomfort.
But in our efforts to avoid that awkward silence, we are putting up a wall. We are letting a three-by-six inch aluminum block keep us from meaningful conversation, from laughter, vulnerability and from quality time with the people we really care about. So you may think you’re just checking your social media, but in reality, you’re doing a lot more than that. And is that really what you want?
According to Pacific Standard Magazine, " Newly published research suggests that the mere presence of a cell phone or smartphone can lessen the quality of an in-person conversation, lowering the amount of empathy that is exchanged between friends.”
The article goes on to say that if your phone is visible at all, your attention is divided, regardless of whether or not you’re even looking at the phone.
I don’t know about you, but one of my favorite things in the world is getting to sit down and talk with my friends and family. I love hearing about their lives: their goals and their dreams. I love to laugh with them and ask them questions. I try to do whatever I can to make the most of the time I have with each person, because I want them to know they matter to me. The last thing I want to do is make them think I’m distracted or that whatever is happening on Twitter or Snapchat is more important to me than they are. But whenever I pickup my phone to check it in the middle of lunch, that's exactly what I’m communicating, whether it’s true or not.
All of that is to say, what would it look like if we put our phones away? Even just for an hour while you’re having coffee with a friend or dinner with your parents. How could our relationships grow and benefit if we removed this common distraction and were fully present in our conversations? What would happen if we focused on speaking instead of scrolling?
So, next time you’re out with your friend, your family, your coworker or whoever else, please, for heaven’s sake, put away your phone. Be present. Be attentive. Be free of distractions. Sure, some of your friends’ Insta-stories might expire while your phone is in your pocket, but the investment you’re making in your relationships will last a lifetime.