I went out to lunch with my husband a couple of weeks ago. This isn’t a common occurrence for us, because we don’t get much time to ourselves and restaurants are pretty few and far between when you live in a rural area. However, when you have to drive an hour one way to get to some big box stores, you do get lunch out! (That’s a long trip, especially when you’re trying to cram everything into one go.)
We went to a sit-down restaurant, and chatted away with one another. Sure, we had our phones with us, but they were set to the side – just in case someone needed to call us and say the house was burning down or something. We’ve been together 25 years now, and yet we never fail to have things to talk about. I would say we talk a little less in public, to be honest, but we still chat away. Neither of us wanted to reach for our phones and see what was happening in the digital world, and we were completely entertained with one another.
To the side of us was a couple that I just can’t get out of my head. They were young, probably in their early to mid-twenties. They were definitely “together”, and had a familiarness between them… so, not a new couple. They were there for about 45 minutes, and they maybe said five words to each other. There wasn’t any hostility or anger between them that I could pick up on, nothing like that. Instead, they were both just engrossed with their phones.
Even when the food was delivered to their table, they didn’t say much. He propped his phone on the edge of a plate of nachos that they were splitting and kept on scrolling. She looked around the restaurant briefly, seemingly pretty bored judging by her vacant look, but then she went back to her phone as well. (I’m fairly certain he was on Facebook and she was on Snapchat.) Their shoulders and center of bodies were facing one another, but their heads were both tilted down in opposite directions… together, but miles apart.
Now, lest you think I’m a complete stalker, you should know it was only us and them eating in the restaurant at that time. It was almost impossible not to keep track of them, because they were put right next to us and were the only other things moving besides an occasional passing staff member. I’m a people-watcher anyway, because people are fascinating in general to me. Still, this “out together but completely apart” couple kept drawing my eye back to them.
I think the most remarkable thing about this disconnected couple is that they’re NOT remarkable. I’ve been seeing this for a couple of years now, at least. I see it across all age groups, as well. It’s probably easily stereotyped as something my daughter’s generation is afflicted with (she is 21), but in truth I have seen people my parents’ age not connecting at all while they burned their time out together on their phones with virtual people who truly aren’t really “there” instead of each other.
I see it everywhere I go. I have seen mothers pushing strollers with their kids around them, walking and not looking, while their nose is in their phone. I have seen fathers at the park while their kid had a ball and forlornly knocked it back and forth with their foot watching while the father scrolled away instead of kicking the ball around with them (often with the command to the kid to “go play”.) I’ve seen it in movie theaters, at parties, and large social events.
It seems like the bulk of society isn’t “here” anymore. We don’t see each other, or hear one another anymore. It’s like an old episode of the Twilight Zone, and suddenly you’re wandering around in a crowd calling out “Hello?” and the empty echoes of your own voice are all you get in return.
I worry for my daughter, and I hope that she doesn’t end up sitting in a restaurant someday with her partner, yet completely alone. She’s related many dates where that’s exactly what happened (although, she was the one apparently sitting there trying to hold a conversation with a checked out person.) I told her that in some ways she’s lucky, as it’s easy to weed out someone like that right away and move on.
Is that what we’re becoming? A society of in-person but not really here people? Is it really social media that’s to blame, or is it a deeper desire within ourselves to not be where we really are? What do you think? Where do you fall into the spectrum?