You’re eating dinner with a friend at your favorite restaurant. Amid the sounds of utensils and dishes and mastication, you hear the muffled ring of the mobile phone in your friend’s pocket.
Most people wouldn’t stop the conversation to answer their phone in front of you. Even if it was an emergency, they would step away from the table to take the call.
Why, then, don’t we extend the same consideration to text messages, emails, and tweets?
Look around the next time you’re in line at Chipotle, Whole Foods, or Exxon: our addictions are showing. A generation ago, nearly everyone casually puffed cigarettes throughout the day. Today, indoor smoking seems crazy, but it’s been replaced by the captivating glow of our four-inch screens. Damn, perhaps scrolling is the new smoking.
Now look around again.
Take in the room, breathe.
Why isn’t anybody smiling?
If the telos of our technology is connection, then why do we let our devices create a smokescreen between us? There’s been much talk about “building a wall” lately, but perhaps we’ve already built one—an attention barrier between us and the people in our everyday lives.
To tear down this glowing wall, I’ve been trying something different lately: anytime I must respond to a message—at home, at the office, or at the local burrito joint—I simply say, “Please excuse me while I step outside to take this message,” just like I would if I needed to make a call (or if I decided to take up smoking).
It sounds silly at first, but this choice forces me to prioritize that which is urgent versus that which is important. When scrutinized, our urgent tasks are rarely important. Plus, my friends respect my good manners, and they almost always extend the same courtesy back to me.