As a barista at Starbucks, I get to see and meet a lot of people. Between orders of pumpkin spice lattes (which although considered a basic white girl drink, I’ve seen more guys order than girls), I sometimes get the opportunity to look out at the customers. What I usually see is a really long line, which, as boring as it is for you, is daunting for me. I also see phones. Phones everywhere. People texting, snapchatting, headphones in, headphones out, iPhone, Samsung, so many freaking phones. I can’t help but wonder how many people have missed out on making new friends or even just having nice conversations due to the glass screen in front of them.
We no longer know how to have small talk. Instead of saying “hello,” or “how are you,” we are content with substituting human interaction for online affirmation. It happens even among friends: you’ve probably experienced it. That moment when you’re hanging out with a group only to look around and see that everyone is on their phones. Sure, you’ll have a short conversation that’ll provide a good tweet, maybe take a snap together, and one of you can put it on your story and the other can Instagram it. Either way, the focus of the time spent together moves from being about quality of time to quantity of likes. Are you really having fun if Facebook doesn’t know about it? Maybe this stems from our inability to endure silence. We feel that we must constantly fill up quiet space, so instead of letting the silence fall until new ideas are brought out, we whip out our phones and a domino effect ensues as one by one other people pull out their devices. Our discomfort with silence extends insofar that we are unable to be alone. Even when we are away from others, we still have the ever-present dings of notifications, emails and texts that let technology begin to overrun our lives.
Maybe we’re afraid to talk because when we do, we can never quite say what we want. We are told that talking about politics or religion is impolite, so we are left with TV shows and shallow topics to discuss. Instead of challenging one another’s beliefs and conferring about the future our nation, we talk about the game last night or how good Scandal is or was or will forever be. Our society tells us that we need to do our best never to offend, never step on toes, but many a great idea has been born through conversation. It used to be that critical thinkers would sit and talk and wrestle with ideas about the human experience, about politics, about everything and anything beneath and beyond the stars. We can barely even discuss the upcoming election let alone philosophize. Actually no. It’s not that we lack the ability. It’s just that we don’t prioritize. We can discuss things in the classroom, but outside, our thoughts are elsewhere.
People are starting to recognize the problems though. They even have games now to inspire discourse in which people put their phones down and the first to pick up their phone has to pick up the tab instead. But really, how sad is it that we have incentivize conversation? When your phone seems more alive than you do, it might be time to unplug.