The scene is all too familiar and traditionally not uncommon. I am sitting in a restaurant or bar with friends (more likely than not this said bar is Home Team BBQ). One friend picks up their phone to check a Snapchat. A few seconds go by and friend No. 2 goes to unlock their phone. A sense of uneasiness starts to creep up within me. Do I pick up my phone and pretend to look busy or sit there and wait for my friends to return to our debate about why Home Team took the quesadillas off the menu. A few more seconds go by and uneasy now creeps into subtle anxiety.
In the corner of my eye I see an older couple looking over at us. The first time they looked over they peered with envy. We are young and drunk on the innocence of our odyssey. We don’t need to rush home to pay the babysitter and our biggest concern seems to be if we are going to order a small or large game changer next.
But when they look over this time they see less innocence and more of something else. I’m trained in body language. I am trained to notice that the subtle change in the dilatation of your pupil or tilt in the direction of your foot and its direct relationship to our encounter. But it doesn’t take a body language expert to notice the couple’s plain disapproval of our “dependence” to our devices.
But what if the older couple knew that the friend checking Snapchat is sending a photo to our best friend Ashley. Ashley just had her second kidney transplant and her immune system is too weak to be public places. We’ve promised to help keep her FOMO (fear of missing out) down, by bringing her spirits up with silly photos and well wishes. And our other friend is checking up on her sister who just had a miscarriage. She’s giving her space to grieve, but has promised to be there at the drop of a GIF is she needs anything.
The older couple sees my friends as no longer being part of reality. But does that mean Ashley or my friend’s sister are any less real?
Just last week, my mom posted a meme to Facebook of two sets of kids side by side. One group appears to be carelessly playing in the pluff mud next to a group who appears to all be glued to their phones with a title that says, “So glad I grew up doing this, not this. Share if you agree.” The irony is that I can vividly picture my mom “sharing” this on her cell phone sitting next to my dad who is quietly thumbing through is own Facebook newsfeed.
So my question is, is the push to “unplug” or “digital detox” coming from a false sense of nostalgia, selective erudition or drive for authenticity? When advocacy for unplugging masks itself as hypocrisy or judgment, I believe finding “real connection” will continue to remain as abstract and elusive as it is ever evolving.