Why are we ignoring each other IRL?

I went out for dinner with a friend the other night and she spent half the time on her phone texting or Facebooking other people. To start with, I hardly noticed.

In an age where all our conversations are so easily accessible and we spend so much time on our devices that we’ve had to coin a phrase for anything that actually happens in real life (IRL) everyone is guilty of occasionally being involved in two conversations at once. As the dinner went on though, I realised that the time I had set aside to catch up with my friend was being shared 50/50 with whoever else was on the other end of her text messages. I had to wait for her to finish what she was writing before I could finish my sentence.

Have we become so used to cherry picking our information from skimmable sources, taking what we want before moving quickly onto the next, that our attention spans can’t even focus on just one person for more than 20 minutes anymore? More importantly, has everyone forgotten their manners?

Imagine the scene if it was, in fact, in real life. You go to dinner with someone and as you are being seated, they notice another friend sitting a few tables away. They exchange a few pleasantries as you first sit down. As the night goes on, they get up and move chairs to sit next to their other friend, leaving you all alone. They continue doing this throughout the course of the night, switching back and forth, abandoning you for periods of time and interrupting whoever their other friend is with simultaneously. It seems like a crazy scenario, doesn’t it? Something that would never actually happen. So how come it’s accepted with your phone?

I asked my friend what she thought about this. Would she consider it rude if I was doing the same thing? Her answer only fuelled my frustration. It seems that if we are with new people who we have only met once or twice, then we do still consider it rude to spend all the time on our phones. These new people are trying to get to know us and we should give them our attention. However, if you’re with someone you’ve known for years who you have a close relationship with then, because you’re so close and therefore comfortable, it’s perfectly acceptable to ignore them. We’re showing more respect to people we hardly know than to our nearest and dearest. It’s like giving a stranger on the street a hug and giving your best friend a punch in the face. They’re your friend, after all, so it’ll be okay. How? How is that okay by anyone?

We’re all guilty of taking the people we love for granted. Giving too much of your attention to someone else when you should be focusing on the person in front of you is just another way of showing you don’t value their time.

The idea that we spend too much time looking down at our screens and not enough time looking up at the world is starting to catch on, especially with the help of things such as Gary Turk’s spoken word film Look Up. I couldn’t agree more.

We have the amazing capability to do almost anything with the touch of a button. You can check emails, browse social media and chat to people you aren’t physically with. But just because you can, does it mean you should?


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