Armor against looking lonely

Navigating the tricky etiquette of using cellphones in public can be full of minefields What is polite? What is just the way it is? Pew Research Center explored those concepts in a survey, and what the survey found was we have conflicting views.

“Mobile devices play a complex role in modern social interactions — many Americans view them as harmful and distracting to group dynamics, even as they can’t resist the temptation themselves.”

I posed the questions from the survey to my Information Concepts class. Their responses echoed the idea of tricky navigation — the cellphone can be very helpful in finding your way, meeting up with friends, keeping in touch with friends and family. (Most text or receive texts from parents daily.) Some of the places where phone use is not OK on the survey included family dinners, though students said their parents are so connected to their own phones that that stricture depends.

closeup photo of an iPhoneOne of the survey responses asked whether people used the phone to avoid interactions. The percentage number was low and that felt wrong to me.  I know I have used my phone to avoid talking to people in elevators  or to avoid initiating contact. The students agreed with that, but they took it a bit farther. Your phone can help distract you when you are waiting in line or have nothing to do, but it also can make you look and feel connected  when you are somewhere by yourself. You’re saying: See, I’m not really alone.

My take on their discussion was that being on the phone, whether talking, pretend talking, texting or just scrolling Instagram kept them from what was perceived as looking lonely. It’s a subtle and interesting shift from the Pew Research Center’s category of “Avoid interactions.” How do we nurture the idea that being alone can be OK? It doesn’t always translate to lonely. I understand how hard that can be when social anxiety hits me on occasion. Years of being a reporter have helped make me a wizard at small talk, at being able to strike up a conversation almost anywhere with almost anyone. Those same years of constantly having to answer the phone, knowing that every call meant someone wanted something have made me more appreciative of the beauty of  the moments of just being alone, of the freedom of not being connected.


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