The Little Screen

“COLLEGE students tell me they know how to look someone in the eye and type on their phones at the same time, their split attention undetected. They say it’s a skill they mastered in middle school when they wanted to text in class without getting caught. Now they use it when they want to be both with their friends and, as some put it, ‘elsewhere.'”- Sherry Turkle, New York Times

I’m sure most people have heard about the negative implications of paying attention to our phones too much. I myself have been that guy on his phone while out with friends. It can be hard to discuss this in an age where you are probably reading this post on your phone. But, over the past year I have tried to cut back on phone usage while out with friends and family. I do this because I have felt the negative effects of when I’m trying to cultivate a relationship with someone and they just spend the whole time on their phones.

As an adult making friends is tough. This is a topic I’ll talk about at a different time, but there is a particular case that I want to mention for this post. Since I graduated college a lot of my friends have moved away, and while we stay in touch I want to try and make new friends so I actually have people to hang out with. There has been this one group of friends that I have tried to become close with, but every time I hang out with them they are on their phones the whole time we are together. How am I suppose to get to know these people if all they do is talk about the group text conversation they had earlier?  I try to start conversations, and they last for a few minutes, but as soon as there is a second of silence they are back to their phones. These people have such great potential to be friends, but it has taken so much longer to get to know them because of phones.

Another instance where I felt the negative effects of constant phone usage was a time not too long ago when I was in a place where I mentored and counseled people younger and of similar age to myself. I am not always the most patient or sympathetic person, so there were times where I would go to someone to ask for help. When I needed help I would ask my “mentor” out to lunch so I could pick their brain on how to handle the issues I couldn’t handle alone. But, every time I went out with this person they would spend the whole lunch on their phone texting other people. We would have awkward small talk. I would try to ask for advice, but usually just gave up because I never seemed to have the light of day with this person. I then ended up having to go to other people for help, but if this one person would’ve just put their phone down for an hour then I could’ve helped the people I needed to help a lot faster.

Now I don’t mean to sound like I am never at fault for this. Of course I can be just as at fault for using my phone as both the potential friend group and “mentor” were. There are probably people who would say they have tried to get to know me, but I was on my phone too much. Bottom line is that we need to learn to put down our phones, and I have found at least one way that helps.

The main strategy I use is called called a “phone stack.” It is literally where we stack all of our phones in a pile. Luckily most phones are now flat, so the pile doesn’t topple over. Whoever reaches to use their phone first from the pile has to pay for everyone’s drinks or food. This is a really good strategy for keeping people off of their phones, because drinks and food are expensive and paying for a whole group is really expensive. The only way this can be overturned is if everyone at the table agrees that the phones can be checked. However, this usually doesn’t happen. We are usually lost in conversation and we forget about our phones. We get caught up in real person to person interaction.

Phones can be great, but they can also be really harmful if not used in moderation.

“You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” – Scott Peck



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