I watched a couple at a restaurant a week or so ago who simply sat and looked at their phones. I don't think they said a word to each other at all, other than perhaps in passing when the food arrived.
Somehow it has become a priority for us to connect with people we hardly know in preference to those that we know and love well. Now, before anyone rushes to remind me that, as I write and post this blog, that is exactly what I am doing and I am therefore a hypocrite, let me steal your thunder and be the first to acknowledge my guilt in this sphere. I too am seduced by the information and intrigue available on social media. My only mitigating circumstance is that I think I am aware of the issue and am reasonably discerning about when I look at my smartphone. However, I have no doubt that I manage to raise the ire of others as much as they raise mine when they pick up and look at their phones whilst I am having a conversation with them.
If we are all perfectly honest with ourselves, we will agree that it is just plain discourteous to disconnect from a face to face conversation, without giving notice of the disconnect, and engage instead in a conversation with some stranger at the other end of a smartphone. And I don't see the problem improving: phones are getting smarter, more and more social interest traps are springing up and Facebook and others offer a convenient and sometimes interesting diversion and escape route from whatever else we happen to be doing.
The alternative to the smartphone and tablet are the possibilities of re-connection and re-engagement at a personal level with the world around us.
So, anathema as it may be to make suggestions which might stop people from reading a weekly blog called "The Talking Stick", here are some thoughts:
- We all have priorities and passions. If social media are not serving what you think are your main priorities or your passion, ask yourself why you're spending so much of your time on your phone or tablet.
- If it is more important to you to be on Facebook or your phone, rather than with the person who is in the room with you, at least make an agreement with the other person about how long you intend to be distracted and whether it's OK that you disconnect with the person in the room for an agreed period of time.
- Ask yourself every time if connecting with your phone is REALLY more important than being connected to the people in the room with you, before you pick up your phone.
- Work out how much time you spend on social media each week on average and then ask yourself if at least some of that time could be more valuably or productively spent. Set limits to how much time you spend on FB and others.
- If there are particular blogs you want to read without immersing yourself in the niceties of what your other FB friends had for breakfast or how the weather is in Ouagadougou, source them some other how, perhaps by email and read it in privacy.
- Commit absolutely and unconditionally to not looking at your phone after a certain hour - maybe 8pm.
- Get a life outside of your phone.