On Becoming Able to Interact With People Right When People Interact More With Their Phones

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, but this made me want to write it down. I don’t have any IKEA furniture so I don’t know if they’re any good, but their commercial sure is hilarious. I love the super serious painter and the tense string music.

I’m not here to lament, necessarily, that people are supposedly losing the ability to communicate face-to-face, that they’re slaves to their screens, or what have you, but rather to share why I feel particularly…ironic? out of place? being toyed with by the Universe? when I find myself in a group of people who are all in their smartphones.

I’ve lived most of my life with relatively little interaction with anyone other than my mother and two brothers, and with us studying/working long hours, sticking to different schedules, moving in and out, etc., sharing a permanent address hasn’t always meant really sharing a life. So basically, I’ve felt alone most of the time.

From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were—I have not seen
As others saw—I could not bring
My passions from a common spring—
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow—I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone—
And all I lov’d—I lov’d alone—

“The Raven” may have drawn me to Edgar Allen Poe, but “Alone” was the first (and for two decades, the only) work that I could, as they say, “really relate to.” At least up to the part quoted above. He kinda lost me for a bit with the fountain to the red cliff and the mountain but when the demon comes in I think I get it again.

Anyway, as a child, I was never good at starting conversations. I’d talk your ear off once you lent it to me, but I was never the one to ask for it. In 10th grade, at the beginning of the school year, I didn’t know anybody in my lunch hour. Somewhat mortified, I sat down at a table by myself in Old Cass Tech’s huge cafeteria. But I came up with a solution to my problem of being alone: I buried my face in my textbooks as I ate my school lunch, pretending to study. This way, I figured, other kids wouldn’t look at me and think, “She’s eating by herself,” they’d look at me and think, “She’s busy studying.” Some nice juniors eventually invited me over to their table, and I sat with them the rest of the year, but the habit of pretending to be deeply engaged in something while out in public to try to draw attention away from the fact that I was alone persisted through my undergraduate days. Although by then I was also doing it because heaven forbid fat people eat in public, but that’s another story. The main thing I want to point out here is that I frequently made a visible display of disengaging from society because I felt myself unable to make any other choice.

Eventually I grew older and just a tad wiser, less neurotic perhaps, and became able to engage with people a bit more normally. But when a protracted job hunt led to me working from home, I ended up, once again, seriously deprived of meaningful human interaction. When I started grad school two years ago I had a really difficult time speaking because I had hardly been doing it. I started reading the textbooks out loud just to use my voice. My mouth and tongue would hurt after about 10 minutes. That’s how little I was speaking. I lived my life in front of a screen, mostly in silence.

While that was going on, I started reconnecting with a friend in Detroit. She started inviting me to things like Slow Roll and Bikes & Yoga, and introducing me to some of her friends. I was a bit nervous at first considering how rusty I was at purely social (as opposed to work or academic) settings, but her friends were all cool people that were easy to get along with and talk to.

One day, we went on a bike ride through the city. We went to Wendy’s then went to the little park next to/below the MacArthur Bridge to eat outdoors. Once everybody finished eating, the conversation slowly died down as one by one, they took out their smartphones. I sat there. I took out my flip phone and put it on the table mostly to be an ass. Eventually my friend looked up, and we laughed about the fact that I was the only one without a smartphone.

Photo taken with a camera. The kind that can't send text messages.

Photo of my bike on the MacArthur Bridge (AKA Belle Isle Bridge), taken with a camera. The kind that can’t send text messages.

Another time, we were sitting in a coney island waiting for our order to come. Five of us. Again, the conversation slowly died down as people started using their phones. And then, there were two. That’s when the one guy in the group said something like “Ugh, what a time to have my battery die.” The other three were playing games. I said to him, “We could just like…talk.” Another friend heard that, laughed, put her phone away, said something about how people don’t know how to interact in person anymore, and slowly everyone came back to the present time and space.

I didn’t say it, but I was thinking, “You guys are the only friends I have. You guys are the only people I see on a somewhat regular basis, and even that’s just once a week. I want to hang out with you. I have finally learned how to people, but now all the people who knew how to people are always using their phones, they’re doing by choice what I had to do with books because I didn’t know what else to do, what kind of joke is this, Universe?”

To end on a less emo note, last November I had started working with a personal trainer, and I came up with the idea of using Twitter so that I could easily track what I was eating and share it with her. At first having to take a picture of everything I ate was novel, then I started playing with my food (arranging it into smiley faces and such), but after three months or so it just became another horrible chore. I did, however, take a photo of Corn Flakes that was far more dramatic than Corn Flakes has any business being:

Corn Flakes Chiaroscuro

Corn Flakes Chiaroscuro

No, wait, I lied, let’s end on a semi-emo note. 😄

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