I’d be lying if I said that I’ve never gotten distracted by my iPhone during a conversation. In a world where our phones are basically our lifelines, it’s hard not to keep them within reach at all times. We habitually put them on the table during lunch, or keep them in our laps during class, or hold them in our palms as we walk. The days of keeping our phones buried at the bottom of our bags are long over.
Sure, it’s reassuring to have everything we need within fingers’ reach, but what effect does our fixation with our phones have on our real-life interactions? The majority of us use our phones to keep in touch with our friends and acquaintances through social networking apps such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. By constantly being able to check what’s going on in the online world, we feel ethereally connected to our social groups, always. As the years go on, more and more people are joining the world of social networking– social network usage for internet users of all ages has risen from 8% in 2003 to 73% in 2015.
Has this increase in online socialization lead to a decrease in offline socialization? A recent Virginia Tech study concluded that people who have their phones out are more likely to get distracted during conversations than those who have it out of sight. Another study conducted by FlashGap found that 87% of millennials felt that they missed out on conversations because they were more focused on their phones than their surroundings. 54% said that when not checking social networks, they experienced FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out.)
Is it possible that the very apps that were designed to aid us in our social endeavors are hindering our ability to be social face-to-face?
It’s possible that we’ve gotten so attached to our online connections that we take our offline interactions for granted. Our social media society is so glued to our phones that we tune out the world around us. Real-world conversations are reduced to background noise as we dwell on the conversations in the palm of our hands. We find ourselves struggling to give our full attention to those in the same room as us because we are so distracted by what might be going on in another place with other people.
By not offering our full attention to those with whom we are speaking, we run the risk of seeming unsympathetic or uncaring, lowering the quality of our relationships in the real world. The Virginia Tech study found that the empathy that usually arises during a conversation with a friend gets downsized when a phone enters the equation. So, at the risk of devaluing our offline relationships, a conscious decision has to be made to put away the phone and focus on the world around us.
Our online worlds can wait; we need to realize that we won’t miss out on anything by not checking our phone for a few hours. The beauty of social networking is that it will still be there a few hours, even days, from now. A real-life conversation, however, is fleeting. And if we don’t learn to appreciate and take advantage of those moments, we might lose the ability to make meaningful social connections offline.
Featured image courtesy of Flickr user Matthew G.