Do I deserve your full attention?
Texting is great. It’s quick, it’s efficient, it’s effective.
But it’s also really annoying. And really rude. And really inconsiderate.
Maybe because it’s so new, there seem to be no rules regarding texting etiquette. This is a problem. I am increasingly frustrated by people who seem unable to separate themselves from their phones and people who are constantly texting. We really don’t need our cell phones on us all the time. We really don’t need to respond to every text the instant it arrives. Think about it: Whatever you miss will be there later, and if something is really that urgent, you’ll get a call.
In my mind, at times when it would be inappropriate to answer the phone and talk to whomever happens to be calling — during church, at the movie theater, during lunch with a friend, at family gatherings — it is also inappropriate to text. Both behaviors suggest — even if unintentionally — that what you are doing or the person you are with is not as an important as the person contacting you electronically. The person you are with does not deserve your full attention, you don’t really want to be there, you aren’t fully focused on spending time with and talking to them. And even if you’re not constantly using it, having your phone on the table or in your pocket at all times says that some other, more important person just might contact you at any moment and you want to be ready to immediately divert your attention to them.
Naturally, there are exceptions to this. If you’re expecting urgent contact or waiting on important information, it’s perfectly understandable to want your phone. My mom almost always has her cell on her because 99 percent of the time, she isn’t with all her kids. She’s always worrying about us, so she likes to be instantly available. But most of us could leave our phones in our purses or coats — or, God forbid, turn them off — while we’re spending time with others and take care of whatever we miss at a later time. I promise, it’ll still be there.
I’m also not talking about the occasional text to remind your roommate to take out the trash or to answer a question about an upcoming exam. I’m talking about the incessant, if sporadic, texting that interrupts a face-to-face conversation and distracts a person from their actual surroundings. The kind of texting that says ‘I’m not paying attention to you.’ The kind of texting that some people would consider a conversation.
Part of my irritation no doubt comes from the fact that I don’t think texting can ever be a real conversation, and I don’t like to text more than a few times back and forth. I use it to make plans, ask and answer questions, or communicate singular thoughts, but if our communication needs to go beyond that, I will call you. Texting is great in a lot of ways, but it is also lacking many things — such as nuance, tone of voice, laughter, emotion, natural lulls — that are crucial to genuine human communication and connection. It scares me to think that the youngest cell phone uses don’t seem to ever talk on their phones; all they do is text.
So here’s my plea: Put away your phone. Focus on the people you’re with. Especially at this time of year, when many of us are reunited for a limited time with friends and family we don’t often see.
But really, it doesn’t matter if it’s a friend or relative you haven’t seen in months or the family members you see every day. Give them your full attention. Show them that they matter to you and that you want to be with them. After all, the most valuable thing we can offer others is our time — and not force them to share it with all our contacts.