Let’s have a bet. The next time when you’re out in a restaurant or any dining area, I am more than certain that at least one person at any table around you will be constantly staring down at their phone, not paying attention to the rest of those around him or her. If you’re lucky, you might even see groups of people who sit together but all choose to stare at their phones. It upsets me when I see this happening and at times, I might even take it too personally.
Case in point. A few years back, my parents and I were on vacation in Hokkaido and we were waiting for our meals to be served. Almost instinctively, my dad took off his glasses, whipped out his phone and began replying furiously to tons of email he had received. Following in his lead, my mum pulled out her phone as well and started going through her photos that she had just took. This wouldn’t last that long, I told myself. But soon, seconds turned to minutes and like a ticking time bomb I exploded. What’s the point of having a meal together on vacation if we are going to sit here and stare at our own phones? We might as well just eat by ourselves or even text each other through the phone, that way at least we are talking. In hindsight, those words, although filled with good intentions, were delivered in the worst possible way. My parents were left speechless and an awkward tension filled the air.
Building on that, it is immensely disrespectful to another human being when one chooses to scroll meaninglessly down their social feed and not engage in a conversation with those around them. By opting to look at your phone, you’re essentially conveying the message to those you are “with” that you’re not worth my attention even when we are sitting centimeters across each other. This mini shield acts as one’s mental barrier, secluding one from his or her friends. I’m not putting forward that it is a hard and fast rule that phones are not even allowed to see daylight when you’re in the presence of someone; What I’m arguing is that unless your looking for something in particular to share with your friends, which helps to enrich the conversation, your phone should be kept, even from plain sight. In fact, just the mere sight of one’s phone unconsciously makes other parties view you less positively.
This led me thinking, what is it that is so important that people have to check their phones every few minutes? Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, what do these all help the user achieve at the end? The mode of being in the loop due to the FOMO, aka. fear of missing out. Once an army friend of mine was scrolling through my Instagram and was shocked to see few pictures of people I know but rather photos by professional photographers or about basketball. That’s because I only choose to know about the friends that matter to me and not every single person I could possibly find on Instagram. I absolutely love stunning photos. In fact, I utilise Instagram to view beautiful yet easily accessible photos. I will admit that I used to mindlessly scroll through my Facebook feed, just for the sake of being in the know. But it soon struck me that this stalking behaviour is toxic and a great waste of my time. (If you’re recognise this is an issue for you, check this article out written by TIME magazine)
An interesting thing I’ve noticed as well is how the quality of conversations have degraded. Often, I’ve seen people engage in online conversations purely with emojis or gifs with no substantial content at all. The trading of images back and forth seems like a psychological warfare of getting the last reply so as not to appear rude for not answering. Youths often reply in Snapchat by taking a photo of whatever their camera is pointing at, just as to reply in one short sentence. I empathise with the feeling that it is much easier to do so then to use Snapchat’s poor messaging system. However, these fleeting dialogues are categorised by their short-lived nature as they disappear without a trace after being viewed. This negatively conditions us to treat our own face-to-face interactions as both mundane and temporal.
That’s why, I’ve made an effort to check less of my social feeds by deleting the apps of my phone. When it is not within a thumb’s reach, the temptations will naturally fade away. Accurately captured in a catch phrase once said by my brother, we need to disconnect to reconnect.
Let’s put away our phones when we are with others unless it’s an emergency. Let’s not rely on social networks to create misleading ideas of interpersonal connections. Let’s bring conversations back to basics where we simply talked about anything under the sun and if not sit in silence and submerse ourselves in each other’s presence.