Monday, January 16, 2017

It's Not Just the Young'uns

We’ve heard it a million times, “Put your phone away while at the table.” I’ve been accused many times of not being present with real people in the room because I am looking at my phone screen. It’s true, I’m guilty. It may be that I’m poking around Facebook, or I could be replying to a work email, or it’s possible I’m making a note about something one of those live people said so I can remember it later. 

The other conversation I hear and have agreed with is that young people are not learning the same kind of communication skills that we learned prior to the internet and smart phones (email, texting, and emojis). I’ve heard young people say, “I don’t want to talk to them, just let me send a text.” The studies that are starting to show up in communications curriculum is that young people are not learning to read people, body language, facial expressions, and even the tones of voice that can tell us so much about what is really being communicated. I’m not going to go too deep here (even though this subject fascinates me!), but I want to share with you an interesting observation. Look at this image, I took this photo just today and if a photo has ever been worth a thousand words, this one is. Dave’s dad is staying with us for a time and in the two weeks he’s been here, he is on his phone as much as Mason is or I am, maybe more because his schedule is not as full as ours are. Dad is 85, far from the youth we label as “screen obsessed,” yet here he is, sitting in the living room with Mason and the two of them could be sitting there completely alone, oblivious of each other. This post is not a judgement or dig on anyone, simply my noticing that it’s not just our young people who are spellbound by technology, it’s everyone who is using it.

Not too long ago there was a term being used, FOMO, it stands for Fear Of Missing Out. People are constantly on their phones because they are afraid they are missing something, or maybe more accurately, not being included in something, I think those are different things and social media has us so eager to be acknowledged and liked that even the acknowledgements and likes aren’t enough. Think about it, I’ve been called out for simply liking a post and not commenting on it. It goes something like this, “I comment on all your posts, but you never comment on mine. All you ever do is like it.” Well, what if I don’t have anything to say about your post? Should I say something just to show up? Hmmm, well that in my mind is talking just to talk - not like I’ve ever been accused of that before! (sarcasm implied) As I get older and work to hone my communication skills, I’m being told that I should communicate all over every post just so you feel like I’m there with you. Ugh! No thank you. 

I also don’t feel like I need to be plugged in every minute of every day, contrary to what many believe. On my birthday, I met Jen for coffee and then we headed over to the farmers market. While we were chatting with one of the vendors, Jen asked why I was texting her. What? I wasn’t texting her, I didn’t even have my phone out. She looked and saw that the text was from my phone but it was Dave asking if I was going through withdrawals. I put two and two together that I had left my phone at home and Dave assumed that I must be terribly distraught without it. The fact is, I didn’t even know I didn’t have it with me. Jen and I had been out for over two hours, having awesome conversations and enjoying our time together, I never even thought about my phone. Yes, I was present, in the moment with my real, live friend. 

I’m going to just leave this whole subject with this final thought, it’s about balance. It will not likely be equal all the time, but if you are finding time to be physically with people, in addition to the time you find to be virtually with people, it’s all going to work out. People will not always remember what you say, but they will always remember how you make them feel. If they feel like you would rather have your face in your phone than smiling at them while you’re together, well, how would that make you feel? Hmmm, always seems to come back to the golden rule, and from my perspective, that’s a real fine place to start.

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