You have a few spare moments while you are standing in line, waiting for a bus, riding in a taxi, whatever. So you pull out your phone. You tell yourself that you’re being productive and efficient by using these moments to check email or respond to texts. But if you are honest with yourself, productivity is not the main reason you do this. Maybe you feel a little annoyed or nervous about the possibility of small talk with nearby strangers. Perhaps you feel awkward or uncomfortable spending a moment alone with yourself with nothing to do. The discomfort of being with strangers or being alone brings up anxiety for many of us.
It makes sense that we try to soothe that anxiety by interacting with our nice predictable devices. But there’s a lot to be gained from the unpredictable experiences we could have when we look up. All sorts of important, meaningful, and necessary things happen when we make eye contact, when we touch, when we laugh or cry in the presence of another. Our brains are complex, our nervous systems designed to rev up or down in response to being near another living being with a nervous system.
We get nourished by face-to-face interactions in a way that just can’t happen by looking at a screen. So once in a while, leave your phone in your pocket and look around instead. Notice sadness or a smile in the eyes of the person next to you. Witness a moment of caring between a parent and child. Try that awkward small talk with your Uber driver. Notice what it’s like to have contact or connection, however small or brief. Do you feel a little less stressed, hurried, irritated?
You can still enjoy your phone, you don’t have to stop looking at it all the time, or never take it out in the back of a cab or the Whole Foods checkout line. When you choose to take out your phone, have fun, and let yourself enjoy interacting with it. Just make sure it is a choice to stare at that screen, instead of an unconscious reflex. And sometimes…make a different choice.