Competing with digital third ‘person’ in the room

By Lindsay Marks |

I was having an intimate conversation with the backside of a light blue phone case. I was competing for attention with someone who wasn’t even in the room. How am I supposed to compete with that? The phone has bright lights, emoticons, vibrant colors and the anticipation of a response. I’m just here, talking.

This wasn’t the first instance where, during a conversation, I had someone stick a phone in my face and text through it. Sure, they pretend like they are listening and give the universal nod afterward, but it is quite clear that my half of the conversation wasn’t as exciting as the reason their phone lit up.

I have not only seen this trend in my own experiences, I see it everywhere. Couples on dates where the girlfriend checks her social media updates and the boyfriend checks on whether the Bears are winning.

I was recently at a restaurant and sat next to a family: two parents, one kid. The kid couldn’t have been 13 years old and had her headphones in, as well as her phone in her hands, during the entire meal. Her parents ordered for her. She hit pause when her parents asked her how her meal was, and then she went right on back to her own cell phone reality.

Mainstream media is advocating this acceptance of treating a cell phone like it’s a real person standing right next to you. In many TV shows, it is not uncommon to watch parents patiently wait while their child interrupts a conversation to look at a text message or something on their phone. In the real world, we wait our turn to speak, and we are now allowing cell phone conversations to trump the actual conversation.

According to “The Linguistic Creativity of Asynchronous Discourse in the New Media Age” by Carmen Frenner, the average text is 19.9 words. That’s less than the first two sentences of this article. The DigitalBuzz Blog says that on average, people spend 2.7 hours on their phones. That’s more time than we devote to eating. This constant need of being plastered to our phones is not only killing our social lives, but it’s rude.

Let me be honest: The second I am put in an awkward situation, my phone also comes out. I’m ashamed to think of the number of people who haven’t been able to see my face because it has been blocked by my red phone case. We all know the feeling of being ignored, but that feeling is intensified when the thing you are being ignored for is on a glowing screen. How did we allow our society to become this fixated on connecting through a mobile device while hindering our face-to-face contact?

When I first received unlimited texting, I felt that it was a sign of popularity when my phone was constantly going off. When I was in a long distance relationship, it was my lifeline to conversing with this person. Now that I’m in college, my phone is a way to be in constant contact with work, group members, professors, assignments, and reminders. Although many of these aspects are not negative, when did we decide to let them overtake our lives? Being constantly connected may or may not be a bad thing. But our society is at a point now where we are putting being connected through our phones ahead of the connections we could have with the people next to us.

Since my most recent incident of having a text message chosen over what I had to say, I’ve tried to be more cautious of this. And I’ve often failed. It’s necessary to think about what we are missing in the world when our eyes are glued to this device. Because that’s all it is — a device. It’s a sobering thought to remember how you felt when you were ignored, and realize how often we’ve done that with our phones to others.

So how am I supposed to compete? Well, I’m not. I don’t have to. All I can change is me. And I know that this dinged up iPhone that I bought off of Craigslist is not more important than what someone has to say. Or at least, not anymore it isn’t.

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