I am sitting with three friends, I am in the middle of telling a story, and they are all tapping away at screens. One is searching for a picture another friend posted that she just has to show us. Another is texting her husband to make sure all is well with the children at home. The third seems to be checking to see if there is anything worth checking for. We are sitting around a table at local pub, we are meant to be catching up with each other. How and when did it become acceptable that whatever is happening via a little hand-held screen is more important than whatever is happening right in front of us? I suddenly decide to stop talking. I decide I will no longer talk to people who are holding a device and looking at a screen. If they would like to converse with me, they can put the phone away.
One friend looks up eventually, as if it has just dawned on her that I've stopped what I'm saying. "Go on, I'm listening," she says. "I can listen while I text."
"That's ok," I reply, trying to sound breezy. "Go ahead and finish. I'd rather talk when you're done."
She looks slightly affronted, finishes what she is doing, and puts her phone down. Not away, just on the table. I continue with my story, but there is a chill in the air. I know my friends can tell I am annoyed, and I am having a hard time trying to sound as if I'm not. I am tired of half-conversations, of competing with whatever social media alert has just come in.
This is only one in thousands of posts about the perils of screens, about a yearning for simpler time when the person next to you was more alluring than a dinging, vibrating device. I rant about this shift in our social construct, in our collective attention spans, I plan to have device-free Sundays with my family when my son is older. Yet I continue to struggle with my own device usage and how attached I continue to be to my little screen. I tap away while my son is nursing. I check my phone in the middle of the night when he wakes up. I frequently almost miss my subway stop because I am glued to the little shining square an inch from my face. It make me wonder what else I am missing.