Art by Christopher Chen
There’s a monkey on all our backs. It’s a habit we’ve all developed that’s slowly turning into an addiction. It’s not drugs, alcohol or an eating disorder. It’s our cellphones, and we should put them away. I understand the commonality of this topic, and I am as guilty as most when it comes to over-reliance on this tiny crutch. But here are a few things to keep in mind anyway.
First, keep it off the table. It has become commonplace for nearly everyone to keep their phones out on the table during most meals. It sits there, face up, right next to your plate, as if it’s as necessary a utensil as your fork, knife and spoon. It claws at your attention, potentially alienating the people around you.
Psychologists have found that “mobile phones automatically trigger thoughts about wider social networks, reducing the level of empathy and understanding in face-to-face conversations,” according to a study done by Essex University and published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships in July 2012. The results of the study also demonstrated “that the presence of mobile phones can interfere with human relationships, an effect that is most clear when individuals are discussing personally meaningful topics.”
So, when you sit down for a meal, try to divide your time between eating the meal in front of you and engaging the people across from you. This may help us all to keep the friends we have and maybe even make some new ones. Trust me, the turkey on wheat you’re eating is not going to be offended if you’re looking at pictures of other sandwiches, wishing it was them. But if you’re committing your attention to other people and places via your phone, your dining companions just might take offense.
Also, don’t be afraid to just eat alone. Despite what many people feel, it’s OK to be alone with your thoughts for a bit. We’ve all been there, or maybe just I have, driving by yourself and a song comes on that hits you right in the feels, or you walk out of the library at 11 p.m. and there’s not another soul in sight. And you go, “Oh crap, I’m alone.” You know the feeling I mean. When you’re certain you’re going to be alone from that point until eternity, we tend to scramble to get our phones out so we can text 15 people, just hoping one will free us from our solitude.
But what if we didn’t take out our phones? What if we just just embraced the uncomfortable — and usually brief — reality of our own feelings? We might learn something about ourselves we couldn’t have otherwise.
There’s just a few more things I’d like to add to this (mostly) unintentional rant. And they all relate to keeping that electronic anchor of yours stowed securely and being present. When it comes to concerts, just enjoy the music and your friends. Why stand there with your phone over your head looking at a screen, when you should be looking at the stage? And if you stop to watch the sunset, do that. Yes, it’s beautiful, and if you want to see it again, stop and look again tomorrow. A good friend told me they happen every day. The same goes for fireworks. No picture or video will be as good as the real thing. And what are the chances you will actually go back and look at them anyway?
So from here on out, let’s all try to sit back and enjoy what’s right in front of us while we ultimately have the opportunity. Or, as I plan to do, take the advice of entrepreneur, author and world traveler, Colin Wright, who wrote recently, “Our meaningful moments are seldom snappable, and diminished by filters. Live first, share second.”
Follow Alec McPike on Twitter: @alecmcpike