Phones. Let's be real. Most all of us have one. We use them. According to some people, credible or not, 1 out of 8 of us are probably addicted to our phones or need to take some time, specifically 6&7March, to unplug.
I cannot vouch for this or not. But I can vouch for what I see and my struggle.
What I struggle with is the text message or tweet that comes in during dinner with my wife. The Facebook messenger notification that comes up during a work meeting. Or maybe even the push notification coming in from my podcast app of choice about the new episode of my favorite episode that became available. Then I do not control myself. I look over and see my phone has lit up with a notification and read it. I know I shouldn't. My wife will tell you that I struggle to not read it. And I aspire to be better about not reading these notifications with her and with others. I struggle to be more present in the conversations I am apart of so I am not tied to other people interjecting into my life. People who may or may not have a right to do so.
I have a friend who once described the struggle something like this:
Imagine you're sitting down with someone whom you care about. Your spouse, a long lost friend, or someone you care deeply for.
They have their phone on the table, not in their hand or anything. You are talking along and you are really enjoying your time together when suddenly their phone makes chimes in with a notification.
Someone has texted them.
They look down.
They pick up their phone and say, “Sorry, just a second."
They quickly reply to the text.
And then resume the conversation.
Except now, there are three of you in the room, and you don't know who the third person is and you did not invite them into the time you are sharing with your loved one. However, they are sitting with you now and they might interrupt again at any moment.
But the two of you resume the conversation and you engage your friend. They wouldn't let a conversation drag out on their phone and they would tell you if it is important.
You trust them.
However, shortly there after, their phone chimes in again. Actually it chimes in three times. You notice the green bubbles on their lit up screen and recognize the sound from before.
At a glance you can't read the names, you're not being nosy, but you can tell the messages are from three different people.
Your person apologizes again and picks up their phone. They quickly flick the toggle to silence it and unlock it. They say, "Oh, I'm in a group message now. They're party planning and I need to respond really quick."
You say, "It's ok." And excuse yourself to the bathroom, grab fresh some fresh snacks, and refill your beverages.
Then you sit down a few minutes later and this person of meaning locks their phone, and you resume talking.
Unfortuneately, now there are several more people in the room.
They weren't invited either.
They're vocal. You still don't know these people and they’re interrupting. Your friends phone continues to vibrate infrequently. They're good not to check it. But it is sitting on their lap and your person is talking, you can hear it going off.
Sometimes, this person that means so much to you, looks down and checks their phone while you're talking or they're talking or in those moments when you're laughing together.
These people are here though.
You can't get them out of the conversation and you've lost a part of this person sitting across the table from you.
You can not force these other people out.
You. Are. Stuck.
Like I said before. I’m guilty of this. I’m not perfect at all. I’ve done this and I’m not proud of it. I’ve done this with people who I care deeply about and I’ve done this with people I am barely getting to know. I’ve done this. I’m not saying the phone is evil. I’m simply trying to point out how rude it is to invite people into a place where they do not belong. How hard I can make it on other people by inviting outsiders into a place that should be private, professional, or free of distractions.
I've taken steps in my life to minimize these opportunities. The first step I’ve taken is ‘silent mode.’ When my phone is on silent. My phone is silent. It does not vibrate, jiggle, or make a single noise. As a matter of fact, if I set my phone on my desk face down in ‘silent mode,’ my friends could start a four hour group message about whether Episode IV or Episode VI is better or if they like Picard or Kirk better and I would never know. Nobody sitting near my phone would know. The phone would simply sit there. Unmoving. Inanimate. It would be simply a phone on a desk.
The second thing I’ve done to minimize my phone’s ability to interject into my life is I am picky about what does and does not get to light up my phone’s screen or make a noise (in the event my phone is not in ‘silent mode’.) I’ve gone through my notification settings and decided who does and does not get to light up my screen. Do I really need to get notifications from Dropbox on my phone’s screen because somebody invited me to share a folder full of pictures of their latest trip to Hell’s Gate State Park? How about from Starbucks, do I really need to know that they are having half priced scones? Or can these things wait for me to check them?
Is my phone about instant notifications about everything going on in the world? Or is my phone about notifications that are relevant to me and what I need to know. And only the things that are most important get to cut through to me. Only when a notification truly matters and makes a difference in my relationship with someone else do I let the notification through.
Really, I have been trying to minimize distractions. I am trying to maximize the time I have with the people I am with. So they are more valued and I am more present.
How many people are you letting into your conversations? Could anyone with your phone number interrupt you? Could anyone you’re friends with on Facebook interrupt you at any moment by commenting on the meme you posted last night or by liking the picture of beef stroganoff you posted on Instagram?
How intentional are you about protecting the time you have with real people sitting in the room with you right now?