Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Put the phone away … for real this time



I’m not an alarmist when it comes to generational trends. If we were to travel back in time, I would bet the first generation of cavemen lamented that their children just didn’t slay wildebeests with the same skill and youthful passion they themselves had once exhibited. And so on and so forth throughout history, proving that everything we’ve lamented along the way was either insignificant or progression itself.

But I have to admit I’m disconcerted with the increasing influence of phones, and that’s coming from someone who’s written approximately 17 columns about his phone and/or Verizon. Not that I think this is a generational trend as much as a cultural one. For example, my mother-in-law, who until recently was still going about life boasting a flip phone, is now regularly interrupted during conversations by alerts she can’t seem to turn off from a game app called Crossy Road.

Lest this humble opinion give ammunition to those decrying phones is general, please. No. The advent of smart phones is, in so many regards, wonderful and important and crucial to our modern lifestyle. If you’re one of the few not on board, you’re stubbornly missing out. But nothing is black and white, everything is gray, and, despite our phones’ seemingly endless advantages, where I see a great disconnect is the crumbling etiquette of human conversation.

This is not a new or noteworthy opinion. We’ve seen ads, articles and general sentiment urging us all to put our phones down and experience life. It’s a great irony that many of us digest this call to arms via our phones, but our ongoing inability to heed this advice is a damn shame. 

To put it bluntly, if you are on your phone when you should be engaged in a one-on-one or group conversation—at work, at the bar, during dinner, anywhere—you are being a terribly rude person.

Are there exceptions? Of course. There are always exceptions. Chances are, however, what you think is an exception is not—HOLD UP, LEMME JUST POST THIS—and is, instead, evidence of an increasing aversion to awkward pauses, small talk, eye contact, and conversations with people we’d rather not be conversing with. Multi-tasking is not a virtue when at the expense of human connection. Using our phones as a crutch in this regard will erode our ability to communicate, to listen, to be truly available, and will, ultimately, distort our sense of friendship and community.

And that’s only touching on subpar, though actual, conversations. It’s unknown how much bonding has gone unrealized as a result of solitary interfacing, how much has passed us by as we’ve opted to stare at the screen instead of out the window. But one thing at a time. It’s probably a decent start to say, when someone is talking to you, put the freaking phone away. Indefinitely.

And again, our phones are great. At their best, they’ve been a catalyst to communication, not a deterrent. But we must do a better job—myself included, believe me—of denying them the inordinate influence they mercilessly seek. We cannot allow our conversations to devolve into distracted grunts and yeahs.

After all, we’re not cavemen.

Note: This column appears in 2/26 issue of The Glendale Star and the 2/27 issue of the Peoria Times.

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