While sitting with my wife at the Cafe Verona waiting for lunch I watched a young couple eating nearby. The women sat and slowly ate her sandwich. She was quiet, you might even say subdued. Her husband looked across at her with an occasional, awkward glance. He seemed at a loss on how to proceed.
As I watched, the young women suddenly snapped out of her trance-like state and quickly reached for her pocket. Out came her phone and her head lowered to an all-to-familiar pose as she read her incoming message. What happened next was nothing short of amazing. Gone was the subdued look of a person lost in their own thought. Out came a big smile. Sitting with her legs crossed, her foot suddenly started to rotate and bob in an animated way. As she quickly started typing on the keypad she failed to notice the frustrated, maybe even wounded, look on her husband’s face.
It was just the latest example of how we live in a connected world that, ironically, leaves us less connected.
There were two other couples in the small cafe. A vacationing middle aged father with his wife. Just minutes earlier he had taken a call from his kids who apparently took off on some adventure and failed to plan ahead. After much back and forth on the phone he told them there was little he could do and they would need to figure something out on their own.
Like a series of scenes in a play, the third couple’s lunch was interrupted by a phone call and the need to discuss some sort of mini-crises with the gentleman’s work.
I’ve been thinking about this for some time now; how we all live in an increasingly virtual society. I’ve always been a person to observe what is happening around me and for some time I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable about the whole thing.
I read a report of recent studies that seems to confirm the dangers of where we are heading. I’ve noticed that the people who do the really crazy things are loners who live in a disconnected world inside their head? People like the uni-bomber and the guy who decided to shot up a theater in Colorado. I don’t think people are going to turn into murders from using their phone and computer too much but there is an increase in depression associated with too much computer and smart phone use. In this same article, Peter Whybrow, the director of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, argues that “the computer is like electronic cocaine” providing the fuel that leads to cycles of mania followed by bouts of depression.
Smart phones, computers, the internet, Facebook, twitter and text messages allow us all, me included, to easily step away from the reality of the present. On this short trip to celebrate our anniversary Cheryl and I both decided to disconnect our phones during the day. Choosing instead to just share each others presence. In hindsight it was a great decision.
Later that same evening Cheryl and I visited Andreas Keller, a nicely decorated restaurant , but located in a basement. Once I finished checking out the Bavarian theme, including the young man playing the accordion, I quickly noticed something different. Something I hadn’t experienced in quite some time.
As we waited to order, I watched a father and mother having silly animated discussions with their 5 to 7 year old girls. Then I observed a young man looking intently into the eyes of his date as they conversed back and forth. To their right, a group of male friends talking back and forth in an animated way. And finally loud laughter from a table as Dad passed a laughing, but not yet walking, child across the table to Mom.
The sound of multiple conversations and laughter was what seemed so unusual and I wasn’t sure why. Then it hit me. I pulled out my phone and in the top left corner it read “No Signal” Literally it was like eating out 15 years ago.
If you are curious about this at all I suggest you try this; go outside and find a bench or park your car where you can sit and observe observe. Turn off your phone and quietly sit and observe the world around you for 15 minutes. Don’t think about past or present. Don’t let your mind wander to your worries or your schedule. Just focus on the world around you. To put it concisely, be still. And when your mind starts to engage with thoughts move your eyes and focus on something new. Then, when you finish, stop back by here and share your experience with the rest of us.