The Soft Glow of a Smartphone Screen and our Obsessive Need to Reach Out.

A few weekends ago a group of friends and I hopped on over to a venue in San Francisco for a night of DJ's, drinks, and dancing. Upon arrival, I noted few people occupied the dance floor and fewer people bumped their hips and heads to a beat. Whatever, the night was young, people were sober, and, I figured, the dancers would emerge as the hour crept closer to midnight.

The main floor in this particular venue tends to get crowded so I popped up to the relatively empty upstairs and starting cuttin' a rug, as I am prone to do, in front of strangers. No one joined me save for one man who shared the space with me, eventually pausing to say, “No one is dancing! Everyone is just standing around. You go to a club and you stand around. It's weird.”

This isn't an article about dancing, though. This is an article about your smart phone, and just how much it is deconstructing our classic means of communication and our shared abilities to be here, now.

As I looked around I saw he was right. A woman wearing a pretty red dress stood in a circle of friends, drink in one hand and cell phone in the other. The backlight of her screen lit up her face as she scrolled, texted, and read. All night I watched people pull out their phones. I watched their faces go expressionless in the glow of their cell phones, completely shut out from the energy surrounding them.

Sure, I admit not everyone likes to dance. I also admit that not every one possesses the courage to dance publicly. In no way do I discount the people who do dance. But the amount of times a person pulls her phone out of her pocket to check Facebook or Instagram while at a dance club is getting to be pretty obnoxious. Would we rather talk to a screen than talk to each other? When did chatting up a stranger grow so uncomfortable? When did saturating yourself entirely in the moment become so hard? I guess these things were never easy. Smart phones only compounded that.

Maybe we are learning how to use our mouths less and our thumbs more. But what happens when we do so? Abbreviations take over traditional spelling. Face to face conversations are not as witty or cute or interesting in the absence of emojis and the time to plan a response. When people do not respond automatically, we get edgy and defensive, rolling through reasons a, b, and c, why he or she did not respond. Our conversation becomes automatic, not authentic.

Additionally, there pulses an obsessive need to reach out, to be known, to connect while already in the presence of possible connection. Phones turn into security blankets, things we turn on when bored or uncomfortable. Anxiety over leaving your phone at home and thus, feeling wholly disconnected for the entire day, runs rampant. What do we do if we can't check our phones? When did connection mean virtual connection? When did it stop meaning simply being here, connected to the earth? Or to the person in front of you?

Perhaps Smart Phones are simply making the capturing process, the updating, the checking in, all part of our newly developing culture. Perhaps this is the next step in our communicative evolution. Sure, some traditions are meant to be transformed, but how far does this transformation go? How much are we sacrificing when we replace physical connection with electronic connection?

Please don't think I am immune to this phenomenon or have figured all the answers. I'm not and I don't. Although I think about this often, I recently pulled out my phone while sitting with friends. When I looked up, I saw every one in the room totally absorbed on his or her phone. It was simultaneously disheartening and hilarious.

I'm not saying we must speak with one another every second of every minute we spend together. I'm not saying Smart Phones are all bad, either – how would I get anywhere without Google Maps?

There are a lot of positives to Smart Phones. I've actually met really cool, really genuine people through social media apps. I find myself constantly inspired by those I choose to follow on Instagram. If I didn't have Whats App, FaceTime and Skype, I wouldn't be able to speak with one of my closest friend who lives in the Netherlands. No situation is all bad or all good, ever.

However, boundaries are healthy lines to establish. If you are having dinner with someone, leave your phone in your pocket or purse. If you are on the bus, zone out on the scenery instead of a game. Better yet, strike up a conversation with your seat partner. I bet they are bored too. Don't feel the need to photograph every sunset, every dish, every moment. Let some moments become imprints on your memory and nothing more for, in trying to document a sliver of experience, we lose out on the experience itself. I challenge you to challenge your self-awareness. Start noticing

when and where you use your phone. Ask yourself if it is necessary or needed. If it's not, put it away. Try to reengage again. That game, that message, that statue update – it can wait. Life isn't in your screen. It's here, it's now, in this moment, in this breath. Choose to live there, instead.

San Francisco native Zoe Jones is a writer, yoga instructor, hoop dancer, and life lover. She calls San Francisco home and spends her days contemplating the contemplative bits of life, hooping in her living room, unraveling on her mat, and singing much, much too loudly.

Group of friends two women and one man, sitting on a bench in park separately looking at their phones loosing communication. people using their phones and sending texts as they stand beside each other image courtesy of shutterstock

blog comments powered by Disqus

The Featured Five