When you put your phone on the table, say, when you’re having lunch with your friends, do you place it screen facing up or down?
Your choice says a lot about you.
The two types of phone users
In this article about whether technology is really making us happier, the author suggests that there are two main categories of people: screen-facing-up people and screen-facing-down people.
Screen-facing-up people allow themselves—more than screen-facing-down people—to be interrupted by a call, text or sudden need to check the weather or stock market.
Screen-facing-up people are open to being distracted by anything that promises to be more interesting than the friends they’re physically with at the moment.
(Some might say that screen-facing-up people are just more concerned about scratching the screen of their phone.)
There are definitely more categories of people than just these two (e.g. phone-in-the-pocket, phone-in-the-bag, phone-on-silent-mode, phone-with-super-obnoxious-and-loud-ringtone), but the idea is similar.
There’s a wide spectrum of how committed you are to being present, both mentally and physically, with people.
Depending on who you’re with, you move along this spectrum. When you’re with your closest friends, you pay full attention to what they’re saying (almost always ). But when you’re with acquaintances who aren’t particularly interesting, it’s almost instinctive to start playing with your phone to find something to amuse yourself.
Why Facebook friends are more interesting than real friends
At some level, we know we ought to prioritize the people we’re physically with. Why is it, then, that we’re so easily distracted?
It’s because in the online world—this includes texting—you can choose to do only what you feel like doing.
Your friend’s status update wasn’t that entertaining? Then don’t “like” it.
The video your cousin posted wasn’t that funny? Then don’t write a comment.
The text your mom sent you didn’t really require a response? Then don’t reply if you don’t feel the urge to.
The attitude we have in the online world is one that’s based on self-gratification, on doing things that make us feel good. When’s the last time you did something online simply because you felt it was the “right thing to do”?
But the real world doesn’t quite work this way.
You “have” to be polite. You “have” to pretend like you’re listening when you’re really not. You “have” to think about whether it would be appropriate to speak your mind.
Being considerate in the real world takes a lot of effort, huh!
Be a screen-facing-down person
With all these things we feel forced to do, it’s no wonder that we often choose the obligation-free online world over the social-norms-driven real world.
Last week, I talked to someone for five minutes who never once looked up from his computer screen during the conversation! (I’m not that repulsive to look at, right?)
There’s one person who didn’t allow social norms to overpower his desire to do only what he felt like doing.
But in order to build relationships that are more than Facebook-deep, we’ll need to become screen-facing-down people. As someone who recently started using a smartphone, I know that the allure of the online world is hard to say “no” to.
I now understand that being a screen-facing-down person takes commitment, especially if you’re a smartphone user!
When you put your phone on the table screen facing down, it’s a symbolic act: You’re “turning down” the distractions. You’re “turning down” your need to be continually entertained. You’re “turning down” self-gratification.
I’m definitely talking to myself, too, when I say this: Let’s make the daily choice to be screen-facing-down people, because it’s really the choice to show people that they matter.
After all, people don’t just matter if they’re interesting or funny or smart or charismatic.
They just do.