So close and yet so far: The bane of anti-social media

June will always be a month filled with celebration in my family. Mine and my siblings’ birthdays, my mom’s birthday, my brother’s anniversary, my anniversary and Father’s Day are just a few of the celebratory moments.

This year, everything seemed a bit more poignant. It was a turning point – turning 30, struggling and facing personal crises.

In addition to the act of celebrating, it seemed important to reflect not only on just how far I and my family had come, but what would still come – and knowing that we could get through it because we weren’t alone.

With all these thoughts in mind, I went to celebrate my 30th birthday with my husband. For months, I had been asked by friends what we had planned. It didn’t make sense to me. All I really wanted was good food in an interesting atmosphere.

And my husband didn’t disappoint. It was a new place, chosen by him because of its name being derived from an Emily Dickinson poem. As we soaked in the environment and began our dinner, we talked about all sorts of things. A dialogue about the future, envisioning 30 more years – the sorts of things that generate dinner and celebratory conversations.

As we were receiving our entrées, a family of three was seated next to us. The first thing I remember noticing was the silence. Not that my husband and I were being loud, but it was pretty evident that we were conversing. This family said not a word.

And then I felt the rapid slight squeeze of my hand from my husband. Looking up, he jolted his head in their direction. The silence made sense.

Menus were laid out on the table, but the glow of three individual screens lit up their faces. The daughter must have been about 10, but she had learned from her parents. Perhaps they had been here before, perhaps they already knew what they wanted to order.

Regardless, in what appeared to be a family outing, each member of that family had chosen to isolate themselves – to be in a world of their own choosing, connected not to each other, but to an electronic device.

I don’t know why it annoyed me so greatly. Their actions didn’t affect me or my meal, but it certainly reminded me of what I enjoyed most about dinner in my family.

The conversation, the connection, the personal relationship. As we walked back to our car, my husband opened my door and leaned down. “We will never let our children spend the majority of their time during dinner on their phones.” It had bothered him, too.

We’ve had the same struggles – how much “device time” is too much? In our own relationship, we realized that time we could be spending together was now being spent on our phones.

“Relaxing” in bed had turned into individual scrolling before one of us asked the other turn out the lights, followed by a sloppy good-night kiss.

No longer. Our rule now is phones off in the bedroom.

Celebrations – of whatever kind – only make sense because of the connections we feel, or make, to those around us. Continuing to disconnect from those around us, from our immediate sense of the world, will only further the isolation we already have. Put down the phones and turn to those we love … to connect.

Heather Bozant Witcher can be reached at hbozantwitcher@clarionherald.org.

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