It’s not difficult to find an image of 20-somethings and younger sitting around staring at their phones. We call it a shame, that we’re losing the ability to communicate, and that our humanity is all but gone. But that’s not the case: it’s not that we’re less social, it’s that we’re less transparent.
I was out to brunch a few weeks ago, took out my phone, and said to the my friend, “totally taking a photo of this meal and tagging you.” Then I showed her the photo, asked her to help choose the filter, and when I looked at my phone minutes later, I showed her the four Instagram notifications. She noted this sharing process, that while I was guilty of phone-at-the-table, I was inclusive regarding my activities. And I try to be every time I’m on my phone in a social space. I ask people for help on Candy Crush levels. I tell people I’m tagging them in posts about our plans. I explain the project that I’ve been eagerly waiting for a response on and consult about how to respond. I try to make my phone activity part of the social event.
If someone is reading a magazine or a newspaper while you’re sitting on the couch with them, it still feels like you’re relaxing together. You know “where” they are, whether it be lost in Hogwarts or confused about the latest legislation on unemployment. But when they’re engaged with a screen? It can feel that rather than being engrossed with something else, they’re engrossed with someone else. Therein lies the insecurity, and the feeling of being left out of something.
In the age of rampant “feelings” posts, it’s astounding that we can feel so alone in our insecurities when a video about loneliness can be watched millions of times. It’s our nature as social mammals, it is literally our nature, to want to be included in the pack, and it’s undeniable how crushing it can be when you feel like someone who you thought would include you, didn’t.
Imagine for a moment hearing a one-sided conversation, maybe you’re walking the same speed as the only other person on the sidewalk and all you’re hearing is her side, or you’re in the car with another person, and they take a call, sitting next to you, laughing and enjoying it, loudly. It is annoying to listen to one side of the conversation, because your brain is exhausting itself trying to fill in the silences. It’s easy to zone out a complete story. It’s easy to zone out your friend and his book because you’re seeing the whole conversation. It is not easy to zone out your girlfriend and her cell phone because you are only seeing one side of the conversation.
Inclusion is a hard thing to be aware of for other people, but it’s worth taking note of. It’s worth trying to talk to the person sitting in the middle, not being pulled into the conversations on either end of the table. It’s worth noticing who has been pivoted out of the circle of friends so you can open the setting to bring them in. It’s worth telling someone you’re capturing a moment with them. You don’t always have to put your phone down, sometimes all you need to do is turn it around.