I have a habit of staring at my phone when it doesn’t need to be stared at.
It’s like a second nature of mine. As soon as I have a free moment, I unlock my phone and start scrolling through Facebook, Tumblr or Instagram, even if it’s just for a few minutes. I became more aware of this habit when I was on my university’s shuttle earlier this week. I looked up from my phone to realize that a good majority of my peers were looking down at their phones, too. No one was looking outside. No one was truly aware of what was going on around them. And it got me thinking – what do we have to lose when we’re constantly staring at our phones?
I think we sometimes forget when we’re looking down at our phone screens that there are actual people around us all the time. Phones make it possible to connect with people who aren’t with us at the moment which is great, except it takes away from the people who are right in front of us. In certain situations we probably won’t know the people around us. But why don’t we start more conversations and change that? Phones give us an excuse not to be social. They give us an excuse to not say hi, hindering a potential conversation or a possible new friendship.
My dad had an interesting experience with this a few months ago when he accompanied my 18-year-old brother on a college visit. “It’s crazy how much kids rely on their phones nowadays,” he said. “I was sitting in the student center and almost everyone was on their phone! What the heck did we do during college in the 80s? We must’ve just stared at each other or something.”
I laughed at his bewilderment but he makes a fabulous point. We get so caught up in what’s happening online that we forget that things are happening right in front of us. How many people have I not noticed because I spent my daily treks to class scrolling through Tumblr instead of looking for friendly faces? How many friends have I missed saying hi to? How many potential conversations did I miss?
This situation can be applied anywhere; the cafeteria, class, parties, even hanging out with friends in a chill environment. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve often chose my phone over the person I was hanging out with at the moment. I’ll also be the first one to say that it’s annoying when I’m talking to someone and they are looking at their phone instead of fully listening to what I have to say. In both of these situations, someone is being jipped. Why don’t we try to focus on the people we are with at the moment?
Besides encountering people, you can see really funny, weird or amazing things if you look up from your phone. Yeah, your phone can provide endless entertainment (and cuteness – have you seen the World’s Youngest Barista?) but there are so many beautiful things that can be seen without relying on your phone as a medium.
For example, the neighborhoods that surround my university have a lot of messages etched into the sidewalks. The messages are super randomly placed and they are usually in the forms of poetry or short prose. Every time I walk by one, I have to back up so I can read it. They make me slow down and become more aware of the reality that surrounds me. It can be simple things, too. Like the sky. Or cool buildings. Or pretty flowers. Or a funny interaction between two people you don’t know. Yes, there are definitely beautiful things you can see on your phone but what about the beautiful things that are right in front of you?
Now, this isn’t me bashing smartphones. Phones are great. My phone is my camera, my to-do list, my schedule, my calculator, my email and my connection to all my distant friends and family. I like my phone. There’s nothing wrong with scrolling through your social media feeds, texting your friends or listening to music. But I do believe that phones can be an unnecessary distraction. They take you out of the present moment; they make it difficult to focus on the people and the things that are right in front of you.
I’ve found that I’m most happy when I’m fully engaged in whatever activity or pastime I’m participating in at the moment. The last few days I’ve been challenging myself to not look at my phone every time I have a free second, whether it be in the elevator, on my way to class, hanging out with friends or waiting in line at the cafeteria. You should try it, too. You might be surprised by how much you notice.