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A Culture of Distraction

Jessica Henry
Student Writer

A technological epidemic has taken over America over the last 10 years, and it does not seem to be going away anytime soon. It is visible in Lottie, where entire tables of students can be found “plugged in” to their individual devices and ignoring the people sitting around them. It is visible in academic buildings, where people walk through the halls, travel up and down the stairs, and kill time before class on their phones.

Unfortunately, this trend is not just a safety hazard—it is harming people’s interpersonal relationships as well. Paul Johns, Assistant Professor of Human Development and Family Science says, “Our smartphones demand our attention and can make our relationship partners feel like the phone, or the person on the other end of the phone, is more important than them. This can lead to increased jealousy, even in the middle of a face-to-face conversation.”

img_1385The shift in attention from the people around them to their phones is a partial result of the “culture of distraction” that students face every day. “I believe one of the most pressing challenges for the college generation is to decide what to pay attention to, and how,” says Professor of Anthropology, Jenell Paris.

It is not just professors who are noticing this shift. Senior psychology major Akinyi Cooke says, “Our society is not accustomed to comfortable silence and uses technology as a default. It is not necessarily a bad thing; however, I see that it is harder for people to pick up on social cues and just communicate verbally effectively.”

In an attempt to reclaim conversation, Dr. Paris suggests partaking in a “digital diet,” which may include, “a regimen for time spent on digital devices and rituals that support face-to-face relationships.”

According to Professor Johns and Dr. Paris, here are some ways you can reclaim conversation in your everyday life:

  1. Make a conscious effort to engage in face-to-face interactions without stopping to look at your phone during brief (or long) pauses. Embrace the awkwardness, if you feel it.
  2. Realize the importance of eye contact in all types of relationships. It matters when you are talking to your mom, your boss, your boyfriend or girlfriend, or your best friend. Eye contact helps us to form bonds with one another, develop empathy, and read social cues.
  3. Try talking to that guy or girl who sits next to you in class, yet you never seem to chat with before class because you are both engrossed in your phone or laptop. You could end up making a new friend.
  4. Remember that texting and Snapchatting are ways to maintain friendships, but they should not be our primary way of interacting with one another. Deep, real conversations are most effective when they take place in-person.
  5. Ask your friends and family how your use of your phone or other devices affects them. Tell them not to censor their response. You may not realize that you are making them feel devalued by checking your phone during conversation—asking others about your behavior can help strengthen your existing relationships and maybe build some new ones!

While, American culture and everyday conversation has changed as a result of the technological revolution Dr. Paris says, “we can learn to cope with those feelings [of loneliness and awkwardness] without a pacifier, and when we do, we’ll see that vulnerability is power, awkwardness is sweet and face-to-face human connection is a treasure.”

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