Have you ever been in the middle of a conversation with someone when suddenly they look up and ask you to repeat what you just said? I find this happening all too often — and am certainly guilty of it myself.
Our world today is inundated with technologies that provide connections to the outside world. Cellphones, computers and social media sites allow us to stay in constant communication with one another. Go to any restaurant and it is easy to find people focusing on their cell phones rather than on their present company. At concerts today, the number of people who are busy picking the perfect Instagram filter for their photo rather than listening to the music is overwhelming. People can no longer enjoy dinner with friends or a walk in the park without worrying about new emails, missed calls or replying to a text.
The Journal of Behavioral Addictions recently published a study that reports "college students [spend] nearly nine hours daily on their cell-phones." Further, "60 percent of U.S. college students admit that they may be addicted to their cell-phone." The study continues to find that women are more susceptible to this addiction than men. While women primarily use cell phones for maintaining relationships and social interaction, men are typically more unattached and view them as a tool and means of entertainment.
With so many social media sites readily available, we are constantly able to document our lives and share them with others. We often spend more time updating our Snapchat stories than actually enjoying what we are doing. For many, getting likes on Instagram is more important than the people they are with.
Our generation thrives on calculating self-worth based on followers, likes and texts. Many say that this ability to maintain constant communication with friends and loved ones brings us closer together. But lately I find myself wondering more and more if this is true. Does this world centered on ever-present communication allow us to strengthen our relationships? Or, instead of fulfilling our need for connectivity, is this all-consuming technology further imprisoning us in solipsistic solitude?
By stealing our attention, I believe that these means of communication distract us from our present company and can weaken our relationships. Further, I believe they are changing the entire dynamic of social interaction. When we are with someone, we are talking to someone else. When we are doing something, we are focusing on posting it online. It is a rare person who can fully live in the moment.
I want to make it clear that I am not speaking out against all cellphone and social media usage. I use both frequently and believe each provides a vast number of benefits. Rather, I am concerned with how this reliance on technology as a means of communication is affecting our personal relationships.
Before technology developed into the giant that it is today, communication was simpler. If you wanted to take someone on a date or go to lunch with a friend, you either called or asked in person. Conversations couldn’t be interrupted by texts or a quick Instagram fix, and people still took time to send letters. Your present company held your attention, and the outside world remained exactly that – outside. These days of intimate personal interaction are quickly fading.
Now, our cellphones allow us safe haven in uncomfortable situations, as well as an easy out for what should be meaningful conversations. A survey by LG Electronics found that "35 percent of smartphone users admit to using their devices to avoid talking to someone, and 33 percent confess to using their phones to appear busy while alone in a restaurant or bar.” While I am certain that many of us have experienced this, I think we need to fight the urge to succumb to it. Who knows how many of our parents or grandparents might not have locked eyes for the first time if they had been obsessively locked in on their cellphone? So, pay attention to your crush — Candy Crush will be there when you get home.
It is all too common today for people to develop relationships based solely on texting and social media. Communicating via a screen, rather than in person, allows us to distance ourselves from our words, making conversations far easier. Without having conversations in real time, we are able to calculate our responses and portray ourselves as we wish to be seen. Our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages only enhance this by presenting an image of what we believe to be our best self. I fear these shallow interactions are beginning to shield us from the true intimacy of getting to know people for who they really are.
It is time for our generation to make a change. Rather than distracting ourselves with the outside world, we should fully immerse ourselves into the time we spend with our friends and family. I challenge you: Instead of taking a selfie, take a deep breath and really look at the people you are with. Commit to leaving your phone in your purse or pocket on your next date — for the whole date. Make a lasting impression by writing more letters. Live in the present. You will be amazed at what you are missing.
Brookman is a pre-public relations sophomore from Fort Worth. Follow Brookman on Twitter @KBrookman13