The coffee shop rocks some stellar music this morning. 1901 by Phoenix blasts through the speakers as I sit in the back corner watching the locals swing through and converse around the shop. The Sit and Stay Café houses a bookshelf where patrons can exchange reading material. There are piles of old books and ironic literature. “Tears of the Giraffe” stands out as I turn to the lady next to me and she calls out, “Excuse me?” She asks me if I know which coffee is the best? I look up from The Orange County Register and lean slightly forward to suggest the one on the far right. After she fills her mug, she swings back to her seat and we begin to engage in conversation. She is a delightful older woman with a southern accent and bright blue eyes. She tells me that she is from Texas and visiting her daughter and son-in-law here in sunny California. She talks about seeing her grandchildren and how excited she is to spend time with them. I smile back, ask questions, and express admiration for the exchange that took place. I get back to my breakfast sandwich and black coffee as I sift through the newspaper. I watch as two young girls take a photo and discuss uploading it to Instagram. This leads me to immediately think of hashtags, which leads me to think of texting. Then, I am reminded of a time when passing notes was cool. In school when you wanted to elicit the attention of a friend or chat, you had to pass a note. I recall intricate folding and the rush of passing it so the teacher wouldn’t see. A thrill in its own right.
A friend and I reminisced about dial-up the other day. She recalled her parents having to get two phone lines because you could not use the internet and be on the phone at the same time. There was a time when we still had to be patient. The lady in the coffee shop was in her 60s, nearly 30 years older than me and these girls were probably around 15, so about half the age gap. I feel slightly removed from social engagement via app. What happen to conversing in the coffee shop or asking a stranger a question or engaging in a conversation? I will tell you what happen. #facebook #instagram #snapchap #socialmedia. All of this seems to be causing something more than just a lack of communication. It causes a lack of thrill, a lack of adrenaline, and a lack of excitement. We are tagging photos and selfies everywhere we go. We want to project happiness without truly understanding what it takes to grasp it. There is no grace for messes. We are gaining more control and causing more anxiety in a world where letting go and learning how to handle change are very important. We online date as a result of the downfall of present and personal communication. We become neurotic. We become impatient. The lyrics of 1901 still play. “Watch them build up a material tower. Think it’s not going to stay anyway. Think it’s overrated.” The dynamics of human relationships have not changed much in those 45 years from the teens I see to the older woman I speak with, but so much has changed in our means of communication.
I am proposing that ten years ago, we knew how to balance lack of control in life and bounce back from change. Are we creating a generation so in control that the slightest change will cause fear? We used to have to wait for a boy or girl to write back or tell the friend if they liked us back; rejection built character. Now we swipe to the left and the fear of rejection is gone. Lack of fear or other human emotions causes us to gain more control. The more control we think we have, the less we actually do. Anxieties and fears have to be dealt with. In order to be dealt with, they have to be created.
This morning I was standing in line patiently waiting to order my tall soy chai when I noticed something about the people standing in line with me. The three patrons directly in front of me had their heads titled downwards as they typed away on their smart phones. I wondered what they were searching for, who they were tagging, or what they were hashtagging. Or perhaps they were pinning, playing candy crush, or reading the news. These three patrons included a business man with a tie holding a blackberry, a student with his backpack wearing a beanie hat, and a woman dressed casually with her purse tucked at her side. Then my eyes expanded past the three directly in front of me, as I scanned the rest of the Starbucks line. Nearly everyone in line was removed socially from the current environment.
Of the eleven people who stood in line waiting to order drinks seven of them were uninvolved in the social situation and environment as they entertained their anxiousness on their smart phones. I watched as only four stood strong with their heads high and devices tucked away. But then it happen, Man Down! (or should I say Woman Down!) One woman of the remaining four ordered. As she awaited her delightful drink she too reached into her purse and pulled out a device. In this moment the number moved to eight of eleven people in line that were busy bustling away on their smart device. Nearly 73 percent of the people in line were not engaging directly into the social situation that they were a part of. Not only were there no verbal conversations amongst them, but they were so engrossed with their heads down and personal agenda, that they didn’t even non-verbally communicate with smiles or looks. Are we opening up to a world where technology may be a catalyst in hindering our social development?
We need to be aware of a new social consciousness as the use of technology and smart phones rises. But what are we doing to make sure we remain and continue to become socially intelligent and socially in-tune? When was the last time you turned off your smart phone for a whole day and just allowed yourself to be engaged in all your social interactions? Try it. Your anxiousness may increase the first few times you unplug. This just goes to show us that we are actively having some kind of relationship with technology and smart phones. We live in an Anxious America. Time for a break up. Time to be more socially intelligent.