“I’m sorry to disturb you,” a handsome grey haired man from two bar stools down says to me, now standing genteelly over my right shoulder as I type a story on my computer. I raise my head up in what I imagine is the manner of Audrey Hepburn; the bar transforming into the setting for a cinematic romance.
He was a good looking older guy, dressed in that way casually wealthy people from Maryland can be. The kind of guy who might have fancy sweatpants and wake up early to jog and drink smoothies. He owns multiple blazers, of this I am sure.
I turn over my shoulder in his direction and wait for him to continue.
He continued suavely “But I couldn’t help noticing …”
Was he going to do something old schooI and order us both champagne to drink in the middle of the afternoon? I wonder if I would accept it. I decide I would. I smile at the co-star of my mind-movie, the suspense building until he gives me the killer pick up line.
“…your laptop, is that a keyboard and a touch screen?”’
My imagination died right there on the bar.
He then proceeded to ask me for boring details about my computer and all but skip out the door, giddy with excitement to go home and buy his new toy.
I wasn’t interested in us starting a steamy affair or anything but I love a good story. I love chatting up strangers at a bar and then going our separate ways, feeling richer for the exchange. Plus I thought at least if I were getting interrupted from writing it would be for something worth my while.
Maybe my new $250 laptop is really just that beautiful an ingénue, stealing all attention when I’m out with it in public. Or it could be that technology’s sterile grip is taking all the magic and spontaneity out of human interaction.
I fear that very soon we will be reduced to living remotely, preferring to co-exist through screens and date robots. I also worry that I am turning into my dad and will soon start telling passersby about alien conspiracies and big brother while wearing a tin foil hat, but that’s another story.
We’ve all been in a social situation where everyone is staring at their phone the minute there’s a lull in the conversation. We kind of subconsciously tell each other “You have my attention as long as you’re cuter than kittens in a costume, more gut-wrenching than the Syrian refugee crisis or sexier than this Rugby player that are part of my newsfeed.”
We don’t stand a chance.
And on a romantic note, I am disappointed that texting has become an acceptable form of communication in modern love. Texts are meant to convey short bursts of information—a small joke, a quick hello—not to carry the entire weight of a relationship, which I have experienced in varying degrees.
Not to be too “Get off my lawn,” but I realized while thinking about this article, that I am lucky to have grown up in a time when I had to call guys I liked on the phone and vice-versa. In fifth grade, I called Nate Kristan. His mom answered and went to get him. I swear those moments lasted longer than time itself. When he finally answered, I asked him to go to the movies. And he shot me down. Not interested at all. Rejection City. My 10-year-old ego was destroyed, sure. But I learned to ask for what I wanted and I learned I wouldn’t always get it just because I was brave.
I don’t see that effort toward communication as much as an adult. I think texting allows us to take fewer risks with our hearts.
I have noticed this disconnection for a long time; none of my ideas are revolutionary. But it’s always worth exploring how we participate in our lives. How do we put ourselves out there? Do we want to follow the trend of burying our nose in a phone or put it down and join the conversation?
As I was batting around ideas on this topic in my mind, l happened to drop my smartphone in the toilet first thing in the morning (in my defense my phone was my alarm and I was very sleepy). But the fact that I had my phone in the bathroom initially is indicative of a bigger obsession.
I don’t miss having my smart phone, though it was convenient. I have lived without wireless, phones or television many times. But that was on various small islands or boats where it was easier to check out.
This is a challenge I am presenting myself with in the midst of constant connection—to actively engage wherever I am. Just to see if I can. To use the internet only when I make a conscious effort to lug that sexy laptop around.
This allows me to look around. To remember what I used to feel like when I was uncomfortable or bored in a social situation. Before I had a phone to rescue me when I felt shy or awkward.
And I do understand the humor of escaping into my laptop to write about the pitfalls of technology on a computer all the while ignoring people around me while I do it. I can laugh about it because I’m not advocating for a world without technology. I’m suggesting that it’s not necessary to be entertained every second of the day. That we could make a choice to show up for each other.
The more we bury ourselves in other people’s news and photos, the less time we have to create our own. We’re talking about potentially wasting moments of our lives to a device.
And I think that would be a shame. Because there’s a whole big, beautiful world right outside our screens, we just have to pay attention.
Author: Erin Johnson
Editor: Katarina Tavčar
Photo: Mario Mancuso/Flickr