The Unwanted Threesome

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When I exposed myself as a BBM addict (no surprise to many), a friend of mine said, “Well, that’s all well and good…but what I want to know is why people can’t put down the phones when they’re out with friends. I feel like people are losing the ability to communicate in person!”

It’s been well-documented (see: here & here) by this point that when asked to go even 24 hours without technology, Gen-Yers and millennials experience withdrawal symptoms you’d expect from an alcoholic denied their beverage of choice for a few days. While I think it’s natural in today’s media-soaked and reliant age to feel disconnected after 24 hours without tech or social media, why are we unable to keep our hands off our mobile devices during a meal, night out, or afternoon with friends?

I can’t pretend to be removed from this – I’m a frequent offender and my friends aren’t afraid to call me on it. However, at a recent bridal shower I was at, I decided to do the “right” thing and disconnect myself for a few hours. I put my BlackBerry on silent mode, stashed it in my purse, and put the purse a whole floor away in the hostess’ bedroom. It was, after all, a very special day for the bride that didn’t need to be marred by my constant tweeting, Facebook updating, and BBMing.

Everyone else appeared to have followed suit, save for a few texts here and there…until we heard a distinct vibrating noise coming from the maid of honour’s bra. Over and over through the gift opening, she fished around in her bra and giggled as the phone buzzed against her breasts. Suddenly, the focus was not on the bride, but on the maid of honour’s social life and her buzzing bosom.

I admit, I finally cracked and went to retrieve my phone as each of the bridesmaids pulled out their phones and started interacting with people who weren’t at the shower while we sat outside. I had become that one person sitting there awkwardly as everyone else typed furiously on her BlackBerry.

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It’s come to a point where while we may be out with friends, we are no longer present. The conversation is punctuated by vibrations and trills, pauses to respond to people who aren’t sitting in front of us, and lulls in conversation where all parties have become distracted and just can’t seem to pick up where they let off. Why are the people in front of us no longer good enough?

Are we constantly searching for the next best thing? Possibly. There are, of course, situations where it’s acceptable to use your phone in a social setting – avoiding an awkward run in, arranging a booty call, talking to your mom. None of your friends would fault you for any of those things.

But is it too much to ask that we put the phones away? I certainly don’t think so. Not only is it awkward to sit there as your friend tools around on their phone, but it’s also really disrespectful. It’s hard to beat the feeling that you’re just not good enough for that person and that’s why they need to get their thrills elsewhere when you’re together. You’d probably have the same feelings towards that friend who always flaked out on plans, or the one who comes to the bar with you yet tries to spend as little time around you as possible. Everyone has those friends and nobody really likes them.

My housemates and I have had a lot of success with “technology-free” dates. When we’re out for dinner, everyone puts their phone on silent and either piles them in a corner of the table, or hides them in someone’s purse. Is it hard? Sure. But at the same time, we’re forced to focus on each other, the people we made plans with, rather than those who were not as fortunate to be in the present company.

Tonight is the reprise of Sex and the City girls’ night for my group of friends. As the organizer, I think I’ll be asking everyone to shut their phones off and setting an alarm on mine so there’s no need to “check the time”. Hopefully it will improve the quality of conversation and make everyone feel like they spent their night with the girls actually BEING with the girls, instead of using them as an aside to their important text-convos.

Do you tweet on a date? Have you ever gone tech-free with friends? Let me know in the comments!

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  • Jameson

    I think that you raise a lot of points on the fall of in-person socialization that has rapidly profilerated our society the past few years, Steph. It’s rare that I’m able to enjoy a night out with the guys and have a few beers without having one of us twiddling their thumbs away at the first flakey message they receive from a female. It’s especially frustrating because, as you alluded to, it makes you feel like a secondary priority.

    The way I look at it is why impart so much effort to actually physically go out and then barely put forth any interest in contributing to conversations through spoken language rather than through texts and BBMing? I’m not a technophobe in the least bit. Technology has advanced our society in an innumerable amount of ways for the better, but I would also like there to be a more concentrated effort on many people to be more receptive to the apparently lost arts of conversation and discussion.

  • Jameson

    I think that you raise a lot of points on the fall of in-person socialization that has rapidly profilerated our society the past few years, Steph. It’s rare that I’m able to enjoy a night out with the guys and have a few beers without having one of us twiddling their thumbs away at the first flakey message they receive from a female. It’s especially frustrating because, as you alluded to, it makes you feel like a secondary priority.

    The way I look at it is why impart so much effort to actually physically go out and then barely put forth any interest in contributing to conversations through spoken language rather than through texts and BBMing? I’m not a technophobe in the least bit. Technology has advanced our society in an innumerable amount of ways for the better, but I would also like there to be a more concentrated effort on many people to be more receptive to the apparently lost arts of conversation and discussion.

  • I’m always a bit worried by the idea that the art of conversation has died out – I thought TV was supposed to do that. Hasn’t it just changed? Now, our teenagers talk all the time, maybe it’s done by text and social media, but they “talk”. I guess it’s just a question of learning a new etiquette – I have some reservations about sticking a phone in your bra when you’re in a posh frock – let alone texting in company! Still there’s nothing like a dose of abstinence to focus the mind, if I may share an experience – here’s one I prepared earlier – or is this a breach of etiquette too?
    http://judithgunn.wordpress.com/2010/04/25/connection-fast/

  • I’m always a bit worried by the idea that the art of conversation has died out – I thought TV was supposed to do that. Hasn’t it just changed? Now, our teenagers talk all the time, maybe it’s done by text and social media, but they “talk”. I guess it’s just a question of learning a new etiquette – I have some reservations about sticking a phone in your bra when you’re in a posh frock – let alone texting in company! Still there’s nothing like a dose of abstinence to focus the mind, if I may share an experience – here’s one I prepared earlier – or is this a breach of etiquette too?
    http://judithgunn.wordpress.com/2010/04/25/connection-fast/

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  • Jameson – I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. Your comments on my BBM addiction & how that wasn’t the real problem really inspired this, so thanks!

    Judith – I agree entirely that it is a matter of learning a new etiquette & that what we consider ‘talking’ has just changed. Where’s Emily Post when you need her?
    Your post on abstaining from tech was really enlightening. I guess at the end of the day we’ve become so immersed in technology that it COULD become a breach of etiquette to be disconnected!

  • Jameson – I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. Your comments on my BBM addiction & how that wasn’t the real problem really inspired this, so thanks!

    Judith – I agree entirely that it is a matter of learning a new etiquette & that what we consider ‘talking’ has just changed. Where’s Emily Post when you need her?
    Your post on abstaining from tech was really enlightening. I guess at the end of the day we’ve become so immersed in technology that it COULD become a breach of etiquette to be disconnected!

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  • I’ve never gone tech free with friends and I have used my phone on a date…not sure if I’ve ever tweeted though…but key thing is I will ONLY do it when I go to the bathroom! Hooray for being a guy and having pockets where I always keep my phone anyway!

    • Anonymous

      Going tech-free is definitely an interesting experience. We’re so tethered to our devices that it really is weird to see them vibrating (or not see them at all) and consciously avoid them. 

      It’s also really odd being in a work culture where having your phone out all the time is the norm – you’ll rarely see a PR person without their phone, it’s our lifeline. 

      Checking it in the bathroom is legit 😉 

  • Ya, the only problem with bathroom checking is you can’t suddenly get wrapped up in a conversation because if you’re in there more than a few mins it becomes VERY suspect.