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Cell phones: A fine way to avoid intimacy

This post is part of the “Beyond Writing Prompts” series to help you to access memories that may not have made it to your Memory List.

Walking through the nearby Bates College campus recently, I walked towards five young women who were heading in the direction of the college dining hall. I could imagine them having gathered each other in a dormitory hallway for the hike to the cafeteria.

“Hey you want to go out for supper with us?”

“It’s time to go eat!”

“Why don’t we go to the dining hall together?”

With this seeming sense of friendship and camaraderie, the five young ladies headed out to cafeteria.

But, wait, something was wrong

As they walked in somewhat of a phalanx toward me, I noticed that all five girls were focused on a telephone—speaking or texting somebody apparently more interesting than the other four girls who were with them in the flesh at that moment.

Perhaps, I am wrong—perhaps they were texting each other?

As we passed, I was thinking about how new modes of communication which are supposed to be great assets for keeping connections with each other have actually become another way to avoid intimacy. Instead of debriefing themselves with each other about how their day had gone and what there was remaining in their day to do, these five young women were talking to somebody other than the people they were walking with.

I would have greeted them except, they were so focused on their telephones, they did not notice I was passing them.

In person contact

In a one-on-one conversation, there is an energy that is exchanged between speakers. It is communicated by the raised eyebrow, body movements such as slumps of the shoulders and the turning of the head or turning of the body. All of these—and variants—are very vivid cues to the speaker as to whether he or she is getting across to the hearer and to the listener as to the emotional charge of the conversation.

Telephone conversations on the other hand are limited to voice. While no one would aver that the voice is not a subtle instrument, it nonetheless does not reveal raised eyes, slumped shoulders, turned heads. While the telephone cannot be described as a unidimensional mode of communication, it certainly is less multidimensional than an in-person conversation—even if we don’t take into account reaching out with one’s hand to put on the shoulder of our sad friend.

And all of this is even more true of texting!

Perhaps a generation or a generation on the half ago, young people at Bates College might have walked in a group to the dining hall listening to transistor radios and in that way they avoided intimacy with each other. It must be said that it was possible to talk to one another with a transistor playing in the background but this is not so when one is on the phone with another person

And before then, before the transistors, what was there to distract people? Certainly this is not too intimate that two, three and more generations ago people were more intimate but the obstacles to intimacy may have been less strong, less established. When you are five girls walking to supper at the Bates College dining room without any distracting media, it is hard to go the 2000 feet without having some sort of exchange, at least several the girls, with each other.

Action step

Was there a time in your life when you used things—the phone, reading, the radio, television, sports—as a way to avoid intimacy with another person? Write about it by creating a scene. Use details and say what you derived from doing this.

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