I was just talking to Eric today about one of our stories from when we were engaged. We’d just gone out to lunch at a restaurant in the Eyring Science Center and I was waiting for him to go to the bathroom. I didn’t want to just be sitting there staring off into space so I decided I would read the plaques on the wall while I waited. A guy came up to me and started trying to engage me in conversation. I could tell he was interested in a little more than just a platonic conversation so I made numerous attempts to flash my ring at him to no avail. I knew Eric would be coming out shortly and I felt bad making this guy feel awkward, but despite my keeping my hand inches from my face holding onto my backpack straps… he wasn’t looking for that signal. Finally Eric came out of the bathroom and came up to me and said something like “Hi Honey” and the other guy quickly mumbled something like “oh, uhm, it was nice talking to you” and made a quick exit. Eric was wondering why I didn’t introduce him to this friend of mine, until I explained to him that I didn’t know this guy at all. We had a good laugh and it’s still a story that we remember and laugh about from time to time.
As I was thinking about this I wondered for a second why I was reading plaques (that I didn’t care about one bit) instead of catching up on emails or Facebook or something? Of course, the answer is that in 2007 smartphones were only just barely becoming a reality and were certainly not in widespread use among poor college students. There was nothing better to do than take in my surroundings while I waited, and despite the awkwardness of that encounter, it was nice to have a real conversation with someone rather than just staring at the walls.
As much as I love the convenience of being able to listen to my book while I take the kids to the park, or have something to do while I wait at the doctor’s office or the millions of other things that make having a smartphone SO convenient, I wonder how much I’m missing out on because I’m too distracted by what’s on my screen. What real world interactions are passing me by? I’m shy by nature and going out of my comfort zone to talk to someone I don’t know isn’t something I love to do, and because I have my smartphone with me, most of the time I don’t have to. But would the world be a better place if I were to force myself out of my comfort zone and talk to someone, simply because the alternative is to stare at some plaques on a wall that I don’t care about? Sure if I had been liking pictures on facebook, it could have saved that poor guy in the science building an awkward moment, but I also wouldn’t have a funny, harmless awkward moment story to share. Isn’t it better to have some awkward real moments than safe technology provided moments?
My mom and I have had a rule since the inception of cell phones that if we’re talking on the phone and a “real” person comes along that we can immediately hang up with one another or put the other person on mute while we talk to the “real” person. The only qualification for someone to be a “real” person rather than a “fake” person is that they have to physically be standing in front of you. The cashier at the grocery store (who I don’t know at all) outranks my mom (one of my very best friends in the universe) on the telephone simply by virtue of being in front of me. I cannot even count the number of times we’ve been talking on the phone and she’s put me in her pocket for a minute just to give a cashier the courtesy of the mild pleasantries of “hello, how are you? did you find everything you needed? how about this weather?” (actually, warning to all cashiers, that last question is dangerous to ask my mother – she’s just one final, one project and a class away from finishing her Masters in meteorology 😉 ) Sure, I might have something to say to my mom that will be more meaningful in the eternal scheme of things than what she’ll talk about with the cashier, but that doesn’t release her from the social contract to be polite and friendly to them.
This video has been floating around my Facebook newsfeed and I finally decided to watch it. Yes, I fully appreciate the irony of finding this video through social media, but hey if you want to preach to the choir you better be at the church, right? This man’s target demographic wasn’t likely to be reached at a lecture at the local library 😛
I want to recommit to being a real person, out with real people. I want to be more inclined to put my smartphone away and dare to be bored for a few minutes. Yes, the internet may be full of much more stimulating news/studies/articles/games than I might get from the gossip at the park, but perhaps I can steer the conversation towards a topic that we might all be able to teach each other about. Sure, I could read something while eating dinner that might be more intellectually valuable than the conversations with my 5 year old, but our dinner conversations aren’t about my entertainment, they’re for the sake of connecting to each other and perhaps teaching something worthwhile to my kids – if only that it’s more important to engage with our family than to have our entertainment needs met. I’m not anti-social media or the internet (uhm, seriously, look at what I do for a living), but I think we could all stand to take a step back and see how we might better serve the world around us by unplugging a little more often and being real.