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Have you ever stopped and wondered why we do the things we do?
Have you taken the time to observe life from the sidelines, taking in the behavior of a person or a crowd, and contemplated why they do the things they do?
As a self-proclaimed social scientist, I love to watch, listen, and learn. There is nothing that fascinates me more than the complexities of human behavior and social interaction.
Trust me, the word “bored” will never pass your lips if you enjoy spending random moments of time observing others. Sitting in an airport. Waiting at the pharmacy. Stuck in traffic. Running errands.
The world offers an endless pool of activities if we sit up and pay attention.
We are not limited to live activities either, as most have learned through the pandemic. Quite contrary. This transfers to our online life too where many spend (sometimes) too much time socially. To each his own.
Verbal and nonverbal observations are just as prevalent online, often more so because we can follow a thread of conversation or watch the facial expressions in a Zoom meeting.
Who tries to monopolize the conversation? Who spends the most time flipping her hair or flexing his muscles, fixated on watching themselves on camera? Who rolls their eyes, checks their phone, or projects an obvious attitude of boredom?
Professionally, I’ve had the opportunity to grow closer with my colleagues and strengthen relationships here and abroad over the COVID-19 years.
I’m grateful for that. It’s an opportunity that I wasn’t necessarily benefiting from face to face, aside from live meetings.
Working virtually full-time has been even more productive than being in the office. Someone who didn’t want to make the time to walk upstairs or those working in other states will video call often—something that wasn’t happening before. It’s been one of the many silver linings of the pandemic for those of us who chose to look for the positives in any given situation.
But the other night, I found myself befuddled by an everyday occurrence that never ceases to intrigue me. While sitting in a room at a live lecture, for the first time since 2020, a person’s cell phone rang. It wasn’t overly obnoxious, like some ringtones, but it was persistent.
Maybe the person was hard of hearing or couldn’t find the phone while fumbling in a bag. Maybe in the stress of that moment, they couldn’t locate the silence button. Or maybe they just didn’t care. Who knows.
It started with one person. One person started moving his head, looking left to right, forward and behind, around and around the room in an attempt to figure out who was the owner of the ringing phone.
Then another. Then another.
Soon, about 50 people (I counted and don’t deny my own idiosyncrasies, of which there are many) were turning their heads left and right, forward and behind, wanting desperately to find out whose phone was ringing.
As always, I couldn’t help to wonder, why? Why do we do that?
What purpose does it serve to make eye contact with that person who didn’t put a cell phone on silent?
Is the goal to simply identify them—or make them uncomfortable for being so ignorant? Evoke a sense of guilt and shame?
Side note, I’ve seen this happen when a phone vibrates as well. It distracts people to a point of obsession as if they will win a prize for being the first to lock eyes with the perpetrator.
I invite you to pay attention to this the next time you find yourself in a room where and when this happens.
Then challenge yourself.
Are you capable of not madly seeking out the owner of the ringing cell phone?
Can you focus on the task at hand and simply let those moments pass by, no harm, no foul?
Finally, ask yourself why any of us do the things we do. And be sure to silence your mobile so you’re not the victim of a nosy mob.