Did you interact with a person today? I don’t mean a family member or friend, I mean the Starbucks barista or the guy selling newspapers on the street corner. Did you consciously make an effort to say ‘Hello’ or did you simply bury your head in your phone and walk away.
While some may find this question amusing, it’s more relevant today than ever before. The smartphone has become a universal safety blanket that we desperately cling to while waiting for our companion at a restaurant or in line for our prescription at the pharmacy. We’re all guilty of this behavior, but why do we do it?
Humans crave connection, so it’s ironic that we use our smartphones as shields to ward off small talk with strangers. We fear being alone, yet we isolate ourselves from others and it may only get worse. As self-driving cars and digital concierges join forces with online retailers and restaurant apps it could become entirely possible to go days without having a face-to-face interaction. Of course, today’s world isn’t entirely devoid of human contact, but will the near future be?
Facebook was created to allow students at Harvard to interact and connect in a digital space. However, this college-based website rapidly expanded and has nearly 2 billion users as of 2017. Since nearly 45 percent of adults admit to checking Facebook multiple times a day, you would think that users are more connected than ever before. However, social media designed to connect people is actually damaging relationships both on and off-line.
Take a moment to think about your everyday life and the conversations you have with those around you. How often would you say your conversations are interrupted? Everyone has experienced the awkward pause that occurs when someone reads a text message mid-conversation. It’s awkward and rude, yet has become totally acceptable. Although it’s unlikely that these pauses could terminate a relationship, it can make people feel unimportant.
The moment you pause to check or respond to a notification mid-conversation, you’re sending an indirect message that the person on the other end of the phone is more important than the one in front of you. As we become more and more accustomed to interruption, our ability to have meaningful, focused conversations weakens. The flow of conversation is affected and often our train of thought lost, sabotaging meaningful conversation. Our real-life relationships may begin to mimic the shallow relationships of social media if we are unable to dedicate uninterrupted time to create deeper connections.
What can we do to prevent technology from damaging our relationships? Of course, the answer isn’t to throw away your smartphone or disconnect your wifi, but to make conscious choices. Instead of automatically responding to your notifications, prioritize the person you are with. Smartphones can be useful and entertaining, but they should not become a safety blanket that you cannot leave the house without. While we are all guilty of getting lost in our phones, it’s important to remember to look up, interact with the people around us and be present. After all, our lives aren’t meant to be lived virtually.
Kali Muir is an ambitious freelance writer with a BA in Communications. She was born in Canada but has since lived in Norway, Denmark, and England. Her work experience is as diverse as her past addresses, including roles in technical communication, corporate communication, marketing, and article writing. She has experience working in varied business sectors: Oil & Gas, Engineering & Technology, Clothing & Equipment Retail, and Creative Writing. Follow Kali’s professional and personal journey at www.kalimuir.com, or connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.