Engage people and not gadgets

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, April 16, 2014

While having lunch with our college-age daughter last weekend in Hattiesburg, an unusual observation came from this intuitive young woman who seems to have lived, in my recent memory, with a smart phone affixed to her as if another appendage. We were enjoying talking about school and catching up on her life, when she suddenly made an astonishing statement while looking over my shoulder to a table full of teenagers.

“Wow, not one person at that table is talking to each other,” she stated. “They are all looking at their cell phones.”

As I looked over my shoulder to verify what she was witnessing, she quickly ordered, “Mom, don’t stare at them!”

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That observation prompted her to begin a heart-felt monologue on how people of the younger generation don’t have meaningful conversation any more.  And when they do, it’s oftentimes about things they have read on Facebook or through social media…often communicating using acronyms and simple phrases indigenous to this texting generation.  LOL! …. OMG! Did I just say LOL?

Well, for my almost 21-year-old daughter to say these things was music to my ears since I have been heralded as the last hold-out of the dinosaur flip phone and one who rarely texted because it was quicker to call the person rather than respond through a text.  I was then surprised further by her muses that people rarely even write letters anymore; they only text in abbreviated code language. As she continued with her thoughts about the anomalies of the texting generation, I sat there gazing speechless into this young woman’s eyes realizing somewhere along the way, the budding maturity I knew would eventually come had indeed blossomed bringing with it genuine intuition and understanding.

Does she still use her phone quite often to communicate? Yes, and so do I and most everyone I know, but it was quite refreshing to hear her speak about concepts that seem to come with time.  And while I do now have a smart phone, I am acutely aware of my surroundings and refuse to let it rule my life.  And I will most assuredly choose personal interaction over being mesmerized by words on a gadget when I am in the presence of others who matter to me.

I think somehow we have forgotten that giving someone our undivided attention is becoming a lost art in today’s society.  And I think my generation is probably as bad, or possibly worse, than the younger generation.  How does it make someone feel when they are in the middle of speaking to a friend over lunch, only to have that friend look down and smile at a phone and immediately give the gadget their undivided attention before blankly looking back at the friend across the table totally oblivious to what was just said.  We forget that giving someone our attention means something.

I know families who are instituting phone-free zones for certain gathering times such as at the dinner table so they can truly engage with the people who matter to them.

Remember how it makes you feel when someone truly looks you in the eye while you are speaking to them and, at least for a few moments, acts interested in what you have to say.  For the moment, they are saying through their actions that you matter to them.  Your ideas matter to them.

We live in the South where kindness and hospitality truly mean something.  And we are Mississippians, one of the most hospitable and giving states in the nation.

So maybe it’s time we take a reality check and put people before gadgets.  Let that text remain unread until we finish lunch with our friend or let that call go to voicemail until we can give our undivided attention to the person on the other end of the phone.  Let’s bring back common courtesies.

Maybe if we truly engage people we’re with rather than engaging a gadget, we just might discover a new past-time…good old-fashioned conversation.

By Melinda Bowman