Midwest Voices

Don’t hit the delete key on social contact

Konstance Woods used her cellphone after Delta Air Lines delayed or canceled hundreds of flights earlier this month when its computer systems crashed. As useful as phones can be, they can annoy people who are on the other side of the counter trying to help.
Konstance Woods used her cellphone after Delta Air Lines delayed or canceled hundreds of flights earlier this month when its computer systems crashed. As useful as phones can be, they can annoy people who are on the other side of the counter trying to help. The Associated Press

Observing human beings is fascinating. In the check-out line of a store recently, the customer in front of me was enthusiastically cackling on her cellphone while not acknowledging or looking at the cashier during the entire transaction.

Interestingly, the most fascinating part of this observation was the reaction of the cashier.

Her face revealed the irritation of such an exchange, and her words to me confirmed what I already knew: “It happens all the time. People don’t want to talk to you anymore.”

It should come as no surprise that face-to-face interaction has been proved by studies to comfort us and provide us with an important sense of well-being, whether it’s with friends or friendly cashiers in the checkout line of your grocery store.

We are enamored with technology, and it has become an integral part of the way people communicate with one another. Technology has increasingly taken the place of face-to-face communication.

Some technological advances cause people to be distracted, overly stressed and increasingly isolated.

These symptoms are not limited to just the person using the technology. In fact, there is impact on the receiver as well.

So, our use of technology should not be examined merely through our eyes but through the eyes of those around us, too.

A study published in the journal Environment and Behavior examined the relationship between the presence of mobile devices and the quality of real life, in-person social interactions.

In a naturalistic field experiment, researchers found that conversations in the absence of mobile communication technologies were rated as significantly superior compared with those in the presence of a mobile device.

The unspoken subtext of being on your phone when with others is: “There is someone or something that I care about more than you right now.”

The idea of being present in the moment is disappearing faster than you can say, “Hey, I’ve got to take this call. … ”

We can easily devalue our friends and family around us, and our surroundings and setting, for something going on somewhere else that we assess to be supremely important or urgent. The longstanding myth of multitasking tempts us to do more at once, but reality tells us that our brains can truly only engage in one activity requiring a conscious, effort-filled focus at the time.

In other words, the secondary activity generally suffers in quality, which could translate to remembering what’s on the screen in front of you but forgetting what the person in front of you has just said.

The rewards of technology are valid.

We can stay connected with people, obtain directions, find out who’s ahead in the polls and even chase Pokémons. With reward comes responsibility.

While the masses tout advancements in technology as exceedingly valuable, we should also promote the importance of staying connected in human ways.

Rudeness abounds when people ignore those around them, miss important information and are generally distracted by whichever technological device is in their current grasp.

With indications of “cellphone separation anxiety” being a real problem for many Americans, we should be encouraged to value our connections with others more than our connections to available Wi-Fi networks. Putting down your phone and speaking to the cashier in your neighborhood store would be a good start.

Diane Bigler is a licensed clinical social worker and an adjunct professor. She lives in Platte City. Reach her on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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