I think I have been alone most of the time for the last couple of years. It doesn’t matter if I am with friends or family, because they all have their faces in their phones and I can’t say or do anything that’s interesting enough to compete with that.
Some days I feel like I have been dropped off on an alien planet that looks like Earth, but the people have been replaced by animals that carry around devices that they look at all day.
Last week while I was riding my bike, I was stopped at an intersection waiting for the light to change. There was this woman in the car sending and reading text messages. She never saw me there waiting and drove right through the pedestrian walk light. I have learned to make eye contact with drivers, and that is why I am still alive.
The next day while I was showing houses, my client was following me in her car. I could see that she was looking down at her phone, which explains why she was weaving all over the road and didn’t always notice when I stopped. She was sending text messages to her husband about the homes we were seeing.
Out on the bike paths and the walking paths, I see the same behavior. People look at their phones while they walk or bike. When I bike or walk downtown, I see other people walking with their heads down, and I know I have to watch out for them because they don’t see me.
People trip and stumble, and walk in front of cars and bikes and run into each other.
When I go to a restaurant I have to wait while my friends check in and take pictures. We don’t have to talk to each other any more. Hospitals and nursing homes have free Wi-Fi for patients and visitors, so now we don’t even have to talk to patients when we go for a visit.
I went to the Minnesota Blogger Conference last week. Heads were down and looking at the phones, like they are at most conferences.
When I did my session, I could not help but notice the people who made eye contact as I spoke, and I have to say I liked it. At the end of my session I personally thanked the people who were there with me.
One of my teenage nieces stayed with us last weekend. She almost never looked up from her phone.
She said she was talking to her friends. As I asked questions, I learned that she has never met some of these "friends" in person. I am so thankful that my children were past their teen years when the iPhone was rolled out and before Facebook and Twitter were invented.
My niece doesn’t seem to have any boundaries as far as what she will share about herself or about others over the Internet. She took a picture of the grandparents that I had to ask her to remove from Facebook. She shot some video in my office and published that too.
In her world, she shares everything with the people in her phone, and they are more important than the people she is with.
Smartphones and the Internet have changed our culture the same way that the automobile changed it during the last century. We have created an entire civilization that is totally dependent on the automobile and it is what we work for.
Yet as an individual I can make my own choices. I have chosen a lifestyle that isn’t automobile dependent. As I decrease the number of miles I drive and increase the number of miles that I bike and walk, I have made time for exercise.
I can’t make choices for other people and I can’t change the world. There are people that I would like to spend time with, but they have chosen to spend time with their phone instead.
It is time to move away from those relationships, and maybe I can teach people like my niece how to do that too. I am not going to be that person who is never there for the people she is with, or the person who is always looking down at her phone.
There is plenty of time to look at and use social media sites. I don’t have to be connected all the time, and I may be able to get rid of some of the social apps on my phone.
My niece doesn’t understand that her online friends are just showing her a small part of themselves. She doesn’t really know them, and they don’t know her.
Those relationships seem so important to her. Yet if she were to sit in the same room with her online friends, she would find herself sitting all alone. They would have their heads down, and they would be interacting with their phones.
In the adult world, people use social media and smartphones to show how awesome they are. They brand themselves and market themselves by sharing much of what they do professionally and some of what they do personally.
I plan to spend less time looking at the online marketing and more time listening to and talking to real people who are more than a brand or business. As soon as I find someone who will look at me, instead of their phone.