Recently, I attended a big dinner to honour a worthy person. We sat in tables of 10 in a large hotel dining room. There were short speeches, engaging entertainment, and excellent visuals, but almost everyone at my table stared at their cell phone screens, picking up messages and sending replies.
Puzzled, I looked around the room at the other tables and, at each table, most of the guests were looking at their devices. Despite having amazing people at each table, the buzz of conversation was absent.
I see this phenomenon in restaurants, on public transit, and in line ups for just about everything: people have stopped interacting with the folks around them – even when they are taking the bus with a friend or lining up with their spouse.
I talked with others about what I have noticed. Some said that we are addicted to our techno-gadgets. Others said that life is usually boring and staying on their device keeps them interested. They could be listening to their music or playing their games on line, not necessarily even connected to anyone else.
That is what puzzles me. Why is connecting to others in person such an unattractive proposition? I think that giving another person your full attention is like a gift. When I really listen to another person, I see the expression on his face and his body language, I hear his ideas but understand them better through his expression of them, and I notice when he finishes talking. I pause before I reply because I need time to digest this information.
I am not saying that we should give up our digital devices. They are useful. There are so many times, though, that we should ignore them, turn them off and engage with others for the sake of receiving and giving the gifts of hearing others speak their heart and mind. That’s how we really build community with the kindness of listening carefully.