Retaining The Ability to Connect

How many times have you been out, either alone or with a friend or family member, and you have noticed in the café or restaurant a couple or a group of people just staring at their phones rather than each other? I’ve noticed this occurring multiple times and more often than not in the past year or so. Now, it’s not great to be out in public on your own on your phone either but it seems rather ironic to be out in public with a friend or a family member and you are both on your phone at the same time rather than living in the moment and being engaged with each other instead of their device.

It’s one thing as well for friends to be on their phones at the same time perhaps to keep up with their other friends but it’s quite silly for me to see couples out in public staring down at their phones when they should be connecting with each other. What is the point of going out to a café or to a restaurant or any other public place if you would rather interact with your handheld device than the person sitting right in front of you?

I can see if one of the two or more people in the group need to respond or send a text, check on a work e-mail, or take an important call but it is quite ridiculous when both people or all people in the group have nothing better to do than to look at their phones. There are a number of ways that I want to suggest in this article on how to retain that important ability to connect with another person especially out in public rather than connecting on social media, be social yourself with the person(s) you are with.

1.The Lost Art of People Watching: There is really something to be said about just wondering what other people are doing and checking out how they are going about their daily lives. Now, I am not suggesting you and your group or friend(s) just stare at somebody and make them uncomfortable. That’s not it at all. What I would recommend is to really just watch how people go running, cook your food, clean up the streets, deal with other restaurant patrons, etc.

For example, if you are at a park with someone else, it’s nice to make conversation about the joggers, the musicians, the frisbee players, the traffic police, etc. It’s a good way to stay engaged in conversation without turning to the phone to be entertained. Watching the world go by is a pleasurable activity and it can make you appreciate the rhythms of daily life. You should not be ‘people watching’ so intently that you make those who know they are being watched notice you doing so! Try to do so casually and without staring too intently. That’s a good way to do it in the mature way.

2. Leave the Phones at Home: What better way to have a good time with somebody then to leave the phone at home. It can be mutually agreed upon beforehand and you can both figure out where to meet up the old-fashioned way: by consulting a map or checking Google before leaving the house. It is really easy to leave the phone at home when you have the logistics squared away in terms of time, date, and where to meet. It’s also easier by car as well when you can leave the phone in your car for the two or three hours you are spending with them and can come back to it later to help you navigate home.

This is a really underrated way of maintaining that personal connection with someone and also strengthening it by flexing that resistance muscle and resisting the temptation of the phone by putting it both out of sight and at least, temporarily out of mind. I think both of you will be glad to rid yourselves of the phone for a few hours or even a whole day and the conversation and the activity will be much more rewarding. You will also remember what happened a lot more because you just were that much more engaged in what was happening because that person and the activity you did together had your full and undivided attention.

3. One Phone, One Group: If you feel the need to compromise about phones in a group, a good way to fix the issue or at least put a stopgap to it is have one phone for everybody in the sense that you are using that phone for everybody to see or use such as making a quick phone call away from the group, checking out travel pictures together, or doing a fun game through an application. Instead of everyone bringing their phones to the group meetup, if one person does it, you’ll have to share and be social about it. Obviously, you do not want others to see your private text messages and contacts on your personal phone but there are ways to do it and still be secure in having others use it.

I really do suggest having some group games on there or using it for showing off pictures and talking about travel or activity plans that you have all done. Another way to be social about a phone is to hook it up to somebody’s speaker and listen to different music together. It can even be some kind of a game where each person chooses a different song in a circle-like setting and your friends or family have to guess the musical artist or the name of the song itself. Being social and using your phone do not have to be separate from each other but the best way to make that happen is to only have one phone per group rather than one phone per person if you want to keep that ability to connect.

4. Enjoy the Silence and Nature: If you have been out with someone or a group for a few hours and you all happen to run out of things to say to each other, don’t go back to the phone! Instead, simply enjoy the silence and each other’s company. You do not have to fill every waking moment together with a witty remark or a sarcastic joke. Sometimes, it’s nice to be alone in your thoughts, people watching together, or just living in the moment and enjoying the ambiance of the place where you are at. This also applies to enjoying nature especially if you are outdoors. You both or the group will not need your phones when you are listening to the birds chirping, watching the monkeys climb to the peak of the trees, or checking out the beautiful mountain or sea view vistas.

You may say, “well, Ben, how can I enjoy nature when I do not have my phone to take a picture of the beauty?” That’s a good question but there’s an easy and simple solution to that problem as well. It’s known as bringing a camera that you like and rely upon and practice taking real photographs. I think it’s often better to take pictures of nature and scenery with a real camera than your phone even though camera phones have become quite popular. Practicing your photography skills with a real camera is a great way to use the tip well and to your advantage.

Photography can be a group activity and will allow both of you or your whole group to take better pictures, enjoy the nature around you, and listen carefully for the silence of the world around you. Lastly, you do not always have to be talking with each other to be connected. That is a false construct invented by our culture really that you have to be engaged with each other socially by always talking. Friends and/or loved ones of many years know so much about each other that they can really be there with one another in silence without filling the void with a conversation 100% of the time.

5. Shame the Phone User(s): This tip will be the most controversial of my suggestions, but I stand by it as having done so myself on a few occasions. The best way to avoid two people from using their phone at one time is to shame politely the first person who pulls out their phone first. Now, ‘shame’ has a negative connotation as it should have in our culture but a little dose of shame in my opinion is not the worst thing in the world especially when what that person is doing is impolite or inconsiderate. If the person you are out with, especially on a date, is constantly checking their phone every five minutes or is not engaged with you socially, then you have the right to shame them for it and ask them to stop.

If they continue with that kind of behavior, instead of doing it right back to them and escalating the tensions, it would be best to just say goodbye and let them know that you don’t appreciate them being on their phone. There are sometimes in life when you have to be both direct and firm with those who are in your social circle, even friends and family members. Respect is a key component in any relationship so if that person doesn’t value you enough to put their phone away like you are for an hour or even more unless it’s an emergency, then they simply do not deserve your time or the money spent to hang out together. Shaming the phone user in public when you’re with them is principally about setting healthy boundaries which are key in our relationships.

Also, you should hold yourself to the same standards and put the phone away as well lest that person you’re with get offended, walk away, or shame you into being more socially conscientious. Turn the phone off, put it in a locker, tell them that text or Instagram message can wait but above all else, shame them politely and remind them that we should be connecting and enjoying each other’s company and not off in a virtual world with other people. Maintaining that sense of cordiality will ensure better relationships and less wasted time staring at your phones in public.

Our healthy and lasting relationships are a key part of our mental health and our outlook on life. I believe that social media is still making us less social and while these networks do connect people on the surface, they do not foster deep friendships or relationships. Social media are like the gateways to having connections with others but you and only you are responsible for fostering and harvesting those connections to grow and become deeply rooted over time. You and the other person(s) who want to connect must do your best to put your phones away and focus on connecting directly by following some or all of these tips I have suggesting especially keeping the phone out of sight and out of mind temporarily.

Flexing your willpower and retaining that ability to connect will make you a happier and a healthier person overall. Your attention span is likely to improve as well as your friendships and/or relationships. I also believe and the research would show that your anxiety, feelings of depression, or of loneliness will decrease the more time you spend connecting with a person in person instead of through a virtual network. This ability to retain deep connections with people is a profound struggle in this age of instant yet flighty connections.

There are easy ways to counteract this trend though by letting go of the temptation when possible, embracing the silence and the natural world, and by politely reminding the person(s) you are with how it is good social etiquette to give someone their undivided attention when you are together in a public place or setting. If you struggle or have a setback, do not beat yourself up too much about it. Keep doing your best, lessen your use of your phone in the first place, and let the people in your life know how much they mean to you by giving them more of your attention and your love.

Mind Your Surroundings

In an era of nearly unlimited distractions, the best way to make yourself stand out is to mind your surroundings. Ironically, this should not be that hard to do yet so many people struggle today with keeping their eyes and ears clear of distractions. One of the main reasons for this phenomenon is the fact that technology has rendered us with the ability to avert the need to use our eyes actively in sizing up our environment by focusing instead on flashy advertisements, fluorescent smartphones, and glittering video board. Our eyes are being constantly assaulted by so many visual cues from inanimate objects that we have an increasing amount of trouble focusing on what’s real and what’s in front of us. Not only are our eyes being affected by this distracted kind of living but our ears as well. If you want to see the extent of this, go to any street corner, subway / bus stop, or any public park, instead of listening to nature with the sound of birds chirping and leaves falling, we instead close ourselves off from the natural world with our earphones, headphones, and even earplugs.

Now I’m as guilty as listening to loud music through my earphones and also focusing on my smartphone or a cheesy advertisement as much as the next person, however, I try to be as self-aware as possible in limiting the amount of time I devote my eyesight to screens and my hearing to artificial sounds. What I worry about and what I would encourage you, dear reader, to do is to know the time(s) and the place(s) to put the distractions away for good and to focus on the world around you. You may not think it is important now until something unfortunate or unseemly happens to you because you were not in touch with the immediate environment. Anything can happen in a split second and if you are not prepared for that to occur, especially in public, you may end up regretting your decision to look at your phone or to listen to music when you should have put the ear-pods away. ‘Mind your surroundings’ is a simple wish I have for everyone especially when you are not at home or in a private domicile. When you are in an unfamiliar environment, you have to be much more aware of your surroundings than you would otherwise because it could even mean the difference between life and death.

Unfortunately, it’s become well documented especially in recent years with the rise of mobile technology how a few folks have met an early end to their lives because they simply were not paying enough attention to their environment. These terrible accidents and freak of nature incidents could be avoided if people put down their phones, their headphones, and their smart watches to listen and look carefully at where they were going. Unless you have an important call, are lost in an unfamiliar area, or have to look at you watch for the time, it can wait. Minding your surroundings is especially true in public places. You need to be watching out for where you are going, or it could cost you. This is especially true when you are not familiar with the local environment or may not speak the language if you are traveling to a new country. Being able to hear the sound of cars / buses going by, of what pedestrians are doing or saying, and to orient yourself to find out which neighborhood or part of town you’re in, this is absolutely critical to do, and you do not need modern technology in order to do this.

While it’s definitely true that most people have good intentions, this is not always the case. Do not let yourself become an easy target especially when it would only take a few precautionary steps to keep yourself aware of your environment. Multiple people have died from texting while driving, looking at their smartphone as they crossed a busy intersection, or have fallen off a cliff from a ‘selfie’ gone wrong. While we live in an era of technological abundance, let us not also live in a time that is bereft of common sense. You owe it not only to yourself but to your friends and your family to make wise decisions in terms of managing your interactions with the immediate environment. The steps you can take are quite simple, but they take serious discipline which may not be easy.

A few tips that I personally think would make a big difference involve some measure of personal responsibility but are really not that strenuous in terms of total effort. Sitting yourself in a restaurant facing the entrance and exit of a restaurant is key if something unfortunate were to happen or if you would like to have a good idea of what’s going on throughout the place, especially if you’re seated further into the room than right by the entrance. I find this tip to be really underrated when you are with close friends or family members who you want to look out for when they are sitting across from you and facing away from the entrance and/or exit.

Another tip of mine is to put your phone on airplane mode or simply turn it off when you are on the go. If you are walking for a little while, driving in a car (all the time!), or are involved in an activity, which requires serious concentration, you should not tempt yourself to be on your phone, smartwatch, etc. because it may lead to deadly consequences if you are not careful. A public service campaign that I fully support is titled, “It can wait”, which shows how 99% of texts or phone calls can wait a half an hour or even more when you’re busy doing other actions such as driving. Having the discipline to use a hands-free method or to contact the person(s) before you operate a vehicle or other machinery is common sense and saves lives.

Above all, the advice of ‘mind your surroundings’ is also appropriate in terms of being able to assess your environment quickly and accurately. You cannot do this if you are listening to music, texting, or have your eyes peeled to the ground. Maintain your awareness, be vigilant, and be sure to maintain eye contact that is dead ahead. You may not think that these tips are important now, but you do not want to regret being distracted if it comes to backfiring on you in the future. Whether you are at a movie theater, the beach, in your car, hiking a mountain, kayaking in the lake, you need to be able to be aware of who and what is around you at all times. If you’re lying in bed or relaxing on the couch, then I would say it’s not bad to let your guard down. However, in public, especially when you’re traveling to a new area, city, country, etc., you need to put the distractions away, mind your surroundings, and pay careful attention to what is going on around you. Unfortunately, this needs to be said in today’s world where every minute, our senses are absorbed all of the time especially in urban environments.

Nobody’s perfect but you really have to adapt yourself to the various locales that you put yourself into. A seasoned traveler, explorer, or observer can tell you that being aware and mindful is a key trait to have that will keep you moving forward. Please do your best to follow some of the tips I have laid out and some of the cautions that I have listed. Keep the texting, calling, and Tweeting to a minimum when you’re on the go and you should be fine. Always mind your surroundings to the best of your ability.