I was 14 years old when I got my first cell phone. After constant nagging from me and my sisters, our by-the-book father finally gave in and bought each of us a Sanyo VI-2300 by Sprint.
I remember thinking, “YES!!! Now my friends will think I’m cool!” After all, being cool is all that matters to you as a kid. You’d sport a haircut that looks like you lost a triple threat match to Ray Charles and a pair of clippers. You’d wear clothes so tight you can see your pulse. You’d even fail a test or two because the last thing you wanted was to come off as a nerd. All that mattered was that you fit in. You’re probably sitting there with a stupid smirk on your face because you know it’s true. I mean, we were kids, and we did foolish things to fit in. I believe we have a desire to want to be accepted by others. We want to feel like we belong. Thanks, in part, to the emergence of ever-evolving technology our desire to be well liked is bigger than ever. The irony is that in order to be better liked and socially accepted, we are actually sacrificing our civility and becoming MORE antisocial.
Next time you catch the bus to work or the train to the mall I want you to pay attention to the people around you. You’ll likely see that the majority of people traveling in groups are discussing Kanye’s recent public outburst, or reflecting on last month’s office party. What I WANT you to see is all of the people who are not looking around but instead have their eyes glued to their fancy shmancy iphone or tablet. Some of those people may be trying to memorize a speech or the quadratic formula on their way to class. Some of those people may be sending their boss the revised version of their business presentation. But most of these people are simply playing angry birds or refreshing their facebook page to see if their crush has commented back on their post.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not judging anyone who does this because I do it just as much as anyone else. I’m just wondering why we can’t get from point A to point B without looking down at our little “glow-box” (yes I just coined a phrase). I believe there are several reasons. Just as people want to be accepted by others (stop denying it), people also want to feel important. We want to need to feel like our existence means SOMETHING to SOMEONE. How do we prove our worth? One way is through social networks. Every time a “friend” likes a photo I post on instagram or shares a status I post on facebook, I feel special. I feel special because someone somewhere took the time out of their day to recognize my existence. For that split second, I mattered to that person.
Another reason we can’t peel our eyes from our glow boxes is because we don’t want to look alone. That group you saw earlier having a good time may not have their phones out because they have each other. They are enjoying each other’s company. But when we’re not in a group, we don’t have anyone to talk to. We don’t want to look like Steven Glansberg when we’re out in public. So we solve that by losing ourselves in our devices and refusing to look up until we have reached our destination.
One of my favorite ways to pass the time is to go out to eat with a couple of friends. However, as soon as we sit down, we grab the menu with one hand and hold our phones in the other. We can’t even have a meal without checking to see who unfollowed us on instagram. Over the past year or two, I have tried to play a game where if any of us pulls out our phone we would have to pay the entire bill. Do you know how often my friends have agreed to play along? NOT. ONE. F*****G. TIME. Forgive my language, but I find it infuriating that my friends are not willing to turn their phones off for 30-45 minutes to enjoy a decent meal and enjoy each other’s company. If anything, they should be willing to play because a free meal was at stake. Let me paint another picture for you. On my way to work one day, I saw a lady sitting on the bench waiting for the train. This particular lady looked pretty stressed out and looked as if she could use a hug (or a double shot of whiskey). I sat beside her and said “Hi, how are you?” Instead of responding like a normal human being, she looked at me wide-eyed and asked, “What? Do I know you?” I told her that we didn’t know each other and that I was simply trying to strike up some friendly conversation because she looked like she had a rough day. We chatted for about 10 minutes until the train came and we each went our separate ways. I find it disturbing that people can’t even have a decent conversation with each other without raising an eyebrow. Are we now living in an era where it is unacceptable to speak to a stranger in public, even if it’s only to pass the time? Is it possible to genuinely want to meet someone outside of a bar or club without being looked at like a creep?
I know I can’t change the world, but I can start with myself. Now, I’ve become aware whenever I pull out my phone. Normally, it is instinct for me to plug in my earphones and tune out the world around me until I get to where I’m going. Now, I simply look around. I enjoy the beauty of my environment. I play simple games where I guess where people are going or where they’re coming from. I strike up a conversation with a young lady with beautiful dreadlocks and inquire about her inspiration to partake on her dreadlock journey. I’m not asking you stop looking at your phones and tablets altogether. I’m just asking that you become aware when you do it. Be a human for once.