The other night, while I was having dinner with my friend, there were two young women seated next to us. As my friend and I were enjoying a nice meal and stimulating dinner conversation, we noticed our “neighbors” weren’t saying a word to each other. Why, you ask? They were texting!
No, they weren’t texting each other. They were messaging other friends (or boyfriends), and carrying on separate, “silent” conversations. They did momentarily converse with one another to compare messages and have a giggle. But through it all, they didn’t look each other in the eye.
That got me thinking how little eye contact there is left. When I’m on the subway pressed against my fellow straphangers, we don’t look at each other. You see the tops of people’s heads because they’re playing games on their phones or they’re reading their Kindles.
If you’re seated at the bar waiting for a friend to arrive, you don’t make eye contact with people; you gaze at your phone, perusing the Web or checking your text messages. Don’t be surprised if the number of people meeting in bars has gone down. Instead of people checking you out, they’re checking themselves “in” on Facebook or FourSquare.
So where do you draw the line? Is it possible for people to balance digital and face-to-face conversations in their social lives?
With all the distractions our smartphones have (e.g. camera, Internet, SMS, games, apps, social media), there’s just too much temptation. Unless some type of etiquette is set, interpersonal communication will continue to be disrupted.
Perhaps restaurants (like gyms and movie theaters) can discourage the use of mobile phones. Or they can establish mobile-free zones, much like the old days of smoking and non-smoking sections.
Otherwise, “social” settings will be anything but.