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Smartphones distract us from our friends

By Emilie Medland-Marchen, November 13 2014 —

Imagine you’re seated at a table with your closest friends, enjoying Tuesday-night wings at a local bar. Everyone bursts into laughter at the end of a story about Saturday night’s off-campus adventure. As the laughter dies down, the room goes silent, and everyone’s eyes turn towards the bright screens of their phones.

It’s not hard to imagine because half of your conversations last week probably went this way. Most of us have a smartphone and it’s usually within arms reach.

But smartphones stop us from forming meaningful connections with people and hinder relationships we already have. They distract us from our face-to-face conversations because we can fool ourselves into believing that texting a friend is the same as grabbing a coffee with them.

With smartphones, you can make plans, hold multiple conversations at once and talk to faraway friends. They make our lives easier and allow us to communicate when and where we want to. Smartphones offer one of the few ways to have a conversation with two-hour pauses in between stories.

But your social life won’t come grinding to a halt without your smartphone.

For the past four months, I’ve been one of those strange people you see at parties without a phone. When my phone broke, I didn’t have the money to buy a new one, so I adapted to life without it. I used a Google app to make phone calls and Facebook to make plans with my friends.

It’s reassuring to believe that having and constantly using a smartphone is just part of modern life. But the perceived necessity of smartphones is an illusion, not a fact.

I wasn’t forced into a life of solitude after I broke my phone. If there’s a major event or a night out, your friends will make an effort to include you. If someone really wants to talk to you, not being able to text you won’t be a problem.

In fact, you’ll probably find yourself growing closer with people because you won’t have the luxury of staring down at a screen during a lull in conversation. You’ll have to deal with the awkward pauses and continue with uncomfortable discussions.

Smartphones can be an easy retreat from an awkward situation, but you won’t get better at socializing if you don’t work through difficult and awkward social gatherings. These social skills can’t be developed when you’re constantly using your smartphone.

In person, you can convey exactly what you want through body language and tone. You won’t be misinterpreted because you accidentally added the wrong emoji or didn’t use enough exclamation marks. With smartphones, we’re missing the complexities of face-to-face conversation.

Obviously, we can’t all ditch our cell phones and go back to landlines and letters. The way we communicate has changed and it’s difficult to navigate the modern world without a smartphone by your side. Technology isn’t something we have the luxury to be scared of.

But you can’t learn the nuances of social interaction if you constantly retreat to a game of Desert Golfing every time the topic of conversation bores you.

We should be wary of how smartphones can control our lives and we should make an effort to keep our eyes on our friends and not on our phones. It’s important to be present when you have conversations with your friends. Don’t become one of the people who checks their e-mail while a friend tells you about their break-up.

Using your smartphone as a tool to simplify hanging out with your friends is one thing. But we’re using our smartphones to maintain relationships that require face-to-face interaction.

Next time you’re with your friends, navigate the sometimes boring conversation and awkward pauses. Get to know someone instead of returning to your phone the moment things get a little dull.

A smartphone isn’t a conversation piece or a replacement for human interaction — it’s a tool. Treat it that way.

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