Recently, I heard about two things that had me reflect on how important it is to pay attention to the life occurring right in front of you- and how often we are not doing this.
One of my coaching clients was discussing how he and his wife went out to dinner with another couple at one of their favorite restaurants. While he had a nice time and liked the couple they were getting to know better, he felt like there was a fifth person at the dinner- the other wife’s cellphone. She was frequently on it, and he found it distracting. She needed to identify the flowers planted around the patio. And she wanted to photograph many of the dishes when they arrived at the table. He found himself getting frustrated at all of this. He also felt that it was impacting his experience of the food and the night. He had just wanted to enjoy the conversation, the yummy food, and the lovely evening. And he wanted everyone to be experiencing the same thing together.
A few days later, I was watching a show I really enjoy, CBS Sunday Morning. There was a story about an amazing 7th grader. The driver of his school bus had a medical event, and this boy jumped in to stop the bus and save the day. He really was a hero. The story asked why no one else had helped with this situation as it was happening, and the answer really upset me. All the other students were on their phones. These are middle schoolers, around 13 years old, and they were all tuned out and tuned into their phones, oblivious of what was going on around them.
Now, maybe I’m old-fashioned, but when I took the bus home from middle school, buses were noisy. We sat next to friends. Students were laughing, talking, and gossiping. We were learning how to have conversations with other people in person, and we were learning more about who we were as individuals. These students are not having these experiences or learning these life skills. And they are not aware of what is going on around them.
These students are in very good company. This is modeled everywhere. When I walk down the street, sit in a coffee house, or ride the bus these days, most people are looking at their phones. When I see people walking their dogs, they are often looking at their phones as well and not paying attention to their dogs.
I am not meaning to come off anti-phone. I think cellphones are useful and have their place. However, when they interfere with us being in the present and experiencing our actual lives, I think this is a real problem. People are missing out on the richness of life when they are on their phones. They miss out on opportunities to engage with other people, even if it is just to smile or say hello at a person passing on the street. And being mindful and engaged are essential for our well-being and mental health.
I encourage you to put down your phone or turn it off at times. Look around you. Experience what you see and hear. Feel the breeze on your skin. Smile at a stranger. Experience and savor your food without needing to photograph it. And talk to your friend sitting next to you on the bus. For these are the memories you make and the life you build- and this is so much more valuable than getting another “like”.