Yesterday my poor husband heard my two cents on how perpetually ‘connected’ everyone is. I returned to school on Monday, and I suppose during the two weeks I had spent off I had forgotten how difficult it is for many of my peers to tear their eyes from a screen. Eating, drinking, pissing, walking, taking the stairs, driving–on the phone. A few days ago I was hiking and stopped at a stream because I heard a great “Plopsh!” that turned out to be the largest frog that I’d ever seen. Shortly after, a man was walking along the trail, and I tried to stop him, but he couldn’t hear me because he had headphones in. He courteously turned back, realizing that I had said something to him, removed an ear bud, and replied (appropriately, he thought), “Good morning!”
I can’t complain much because of course it was he who missed out on rana colossus (made that up), but this sort of scene bothers me. There is no fellowship in the world anymore, no experiences really shared among strangers, and no friendships begun from conversations that are struck up spontaneously in the library, at the bus stop, or on the trail. I know that to say “no,” as in “zero” is an exaggeration, but maybe in another few years it won’t be.
Even though I am rather introverted, I sometimes like talking to strangers. I even sometimes like talking to my friends and relatives! Occasionally I will see someone carrying a book that I love, for instance, and I’ll talk to them about it. A few years ago, it wasn’t uncommon for me to have a conversation with a stranger at a cafe, beginning with a comment on my Led Zeppelin t-shirt. I particularly enjoyed sharing pleasantries with some folks who used to take the same bus as me when I was stationed in Pensacola. In Japan, older people would sometimes come talk to me while I sat in a park looking at the sea.
Now it seems like people need a reason to talk to each other. I don’t think we all ought to interrupt individuals who are obviously engaged in a telephone conversation or reading a book… but I do miss when we all fought off our boredom by chatting and joking with each other rather than surfing BuzzFeed and taking “Which Disney Princess Are You”-type quizzes.
Are we afraid of being bored? It seems like it. Of all the time I spend just looking around and making observations, one thing I really don’t often observe is other people doing the same thing! I am rarely bored. I am interested in what I see, hear, and smell around me. I can make games in my mind, can go through my plans for the day, or just think–which encompasses a huge list of mental activities right there. I miss out on these things, I miss out on coming up with (and sometimes even answering) important questions, and I miss out on knowing myself, if I keep my mind fixed on books, apps, music, and so on. The mind and heart are often doing the most when a person appears to be doing the least.
Are we insulating ourselves? When I was a teenager, sometimes I pretended to be doing something to either avoid interaction, or more often, to alleviate the discomfort I felt about not socializing. That is, I felt like it was an embarrassing thing to go to a movie or eat alone, for example. How else to explain this I am not exactly sure because I don’t really feel that way anymore. I cannot help but wonder if a lot of people aren’t constantly glued to their phones because they don’t want to appear alone–like me when I was a teen and got my first phone. There are also people who decidedly wish to avoid interaction with strangers; I’ve had friends who admitted to me they sometimes wore headphones so people wouldn’t talk to them at certain times. I have thought about doing this, but I’m not sure if I ever have done it. Perhaps this is a common behavior and many of my peers are fixated on their screens simply as a signal for others not to approach. I’m no stranger to the feeling of wanting to curl into a ball and roll the hell away from a person or group of people, but is it a healthy or mature thing to do to be so averse to uninvited interaction? There is a difference in not seeking interaction versus actively avoiding it, is there not?
Are we missing out? Yes! Unequivocally, I think. There are the baseball-sized frogs we miss, of course. There is the sound of birds we miss. Half of my school mates are missing out on the gorgeous landscaping of our college, I tell you that! It is difficult enough to see a small rabbit silently and swiftly hop away when you are paying attention–those who walk and text never see these things! I don’t know if their text messages lift their hearts up in joy in the same way the little rabbit lifts mine… This isn’t all about missing out on nature either. When we avoid or ignore each other, we miss opportunities at friendship and collaboration. We become less comfortable when those opportunities to arise, because we are not very practiced. We lose the feeling of community, the feeling of how connected we all really are in some ways. Christians who do this miss out on chances to do the Lord’s work–we are looking down when we could be looking straight into the eyes of someone who needs to be seen! We might feel like there are fewer problems in our lives, our backyards, and our world when we keep our eyes on our games and enjoy our ignorance, but it is a mistake to habitually look away (or distract ourselves).
On that note, though I have a few more ideas I wouldn’t mind adding, I should follow my own advice and not be too distracted even by the exploration of my own ideas. I’ve observed out my window a rather low flying helicopter, so I would like to go investigate and take some video! The world is so exciting and alive. Every day and everywhere there is something beautiful, something unique, something that will never be known again! Why miss that so that I can read my email? Forget it.