Louie C.K.is on to something here. It’s easier to be mean to people we see as other, and it’s easier to see people as other through a screen. Phone interaction is not the same as human interaction and the former is detracting from the latter, keeping us from facing full human emotion. Being able to sit still and be a little bored is part of being human. The phone is not at fault. The tool is great and should be continued to be used. We can use our tools with intentionality and integrity in a way that maximizes our humanity, but we have to work for it.
I’m an intimate extrovert with a high capacity for connection, friendship and empathy. I get tired at big parties, but leave a great lunch date inspired and stimulated. Needing intimacy, I’m aware and sensitive to the societal shifts away from human interaction toward virtual interaction. As addiction to our phones becomes more acceptable in society, I feel more lonely and tired. I like the art of conversation with uninterrupted momentum and true human, unadulterated presence. When my flip phone broke, dying a valiant death of a beer spill, I bought a smart phone and committed to my own code of ethics wherein I try not to treat my smart phone like a morphine drip. I keep it put away when there is potential of interacting with other people in the flesh, thus finding myself sitting more regularly watching people stare into the vortex of their phones. I am struggling more and more to keep to my code of ethics. But I do believe in building up my health and empathy skills through existing in the world of real social encounters.
This addiction to screens has real consequences. When I taught high school theology, I invited young people to unplug and practice human interaction. I paired them and forced them to have one-on-one conversations. We talked about attentive body language and what to do if there is a lull in the conversation. Young people actually have to practice this. I switched the pairs several times throughout class. Pushing through awkward silence, getting curious, asking follow up questions, and laughing, they talked to kids they weren’t supposed to, according to the unwritten rules of high school. They learned new things about their friends, too, and they seemed to sense intuitively that human connection is sacred. Every time they begged, “Ms. Roscher, when can we do this again?”
I replied, “You can do this at any moment of your day. All you’re doing is talking to each other.” But their normal is making it harder and harder for them to carve out time for genuine human interaction in a way that’s socially acceptable. They wanted me, an adult, to require them to talk to each other, to make them do the right thing. Kids need help creating new boundaries for the changing world. Kids want human interaction, but they need adults to hold us all to a higher standard. Our phones are tools that can be used or abused, meant to enhance our lives, not take them away. It’s the challenge we face in our quests to stay connected as human beings. Preach on, Louie.