Recently I read an opinion piece in the New York Times called, “The Flight From Conversation,” that struck a chord, as I’m sure it does for many of us. It highlighted the current state of our “always on” culture –the seeming need for constant digital connectivity while sacrificing RL conversation for mere connection. And the timing of the article, aligned with a trip home, couldn’t have been more on target.
For years my visits home have yielded the same displeasure and comments from my family, “Do you really NEED to be on your phone ALL the time?” or as I’m furiously e-mailing/tweeting/texting, my mom will chime in with a comment lathered in guilt, “I’m sorry, am I interrupting you? I’ll wait.”
Unfortunately, I’ve had the bad habit for years of pulling my cell phone out in the middle of conversation or leaving it on the table during meals. For many people, it is obnoxious and insulting – and I will admit it is obnoxious to me too.
I’ll never forget one Christmas I came home for the first time in over a year, and while having dinner with my mom at our favorite sushi restaurant I pulled out my iPhone. The expression in her face I’ll never forget — it was disappointment, disgust, anger, and hurt all at once.
“Jessica!” she yelped. “Do you REALLY have to do that now?”
“MOM!” I responded like a bratty adolescent. “I am WORKING.”
I don’t remember exactly what I was doing, but I’m almost certain it wasn’t worth the sacrifice of the conversation with my world’s favorite person, and someone I so infrequently get face time with. It’s insulting, and degrading. (Mom, you know I love you and think you’re perfect. I’m sorry for being rude).
My friend Jordana wrote a post a couple weeks back, about her phone being her “fourth utensil”. The idea that it’s become socially acceptable to leave your phone on the table, for check-ins, photos, sharing, getting deals for restaurants, etc. And while I get what she’s saying, I HATE that this is acceptable. In fact, it infuriates me, and I’m one of the biggest offenders.
Why do we do this? What is so important on Instagram and Facebook that it’s worth forfeiting facetime (the real version, not the iPhone imposter)? How do we remedy this fear we’re missing something if we don’t get push notifications for our friend’s Foursquare check-ins?
After the NYT piece was published, Jordana shared it out to her Facebook network along with her POV.
“Good reminder that real talk > digital sips. Especially love this: “And then they put their earphones on. ‘Big ones. Like pilots. They turn their desks into cockpits.’ With the young lawyers in their cockpits, the office is quiet, a quiet that does not ask to be broken.’”
Couldn’t agree more.
Interestingly enough, I have found folks that are most renowned in the social/online space to be the most engaging in real life. I can’t remember a single in person conversation I’ve had with Micah Baldwin, Dennis Crowley, Scott Beale, Matthew Inman, Gary Vaynerchuk, Peter Ha or any of those guys distracted by their devices. They’re present, and engaging, conversational and attentive. I have to believe that’s one of the reasons why they’re so successful.
So, I’m reclaiming conversation. For the month of May (just because I’m better at committing when I have a definitive time frame), I’m going to make it my resolution to be more present, to leave my device in my bag for meals with friends and family, to participate and engage, and to remember and follow up.
So, what do you say? You in to take back the IRL conversation?