The Importance of Being Truly Present In An Era of 24/7 Digital Connectivity

How not accessing our phones in a social setting is critical to maintaining healthy relationships

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On a recent fall evening, I joined my favorite nephew John for drinks at a local winery. At the end of a particularly hot summer, the relatively cool evening was a welcome change. As a mother of four a night out is a rare thing, but meeting up with my nephew is always worth finding time in my schedule.

The wonderful thing about John is that beyond being an incredibly gentle soul, he is also one of the most genuine individuals one could ever wish to meet. A graduate of Notre Dame with a degree in economics, he is also extremely smart.

We share many of the same interests, from a love of travel to eighties bands, so conversation is always easy and often involves a trip down memory lane. In the eighties, he was a bright kid with lots of interests and an inquisitive mind. I was his twenty something aunt who dyed her hair purple, ranted about the US military involvement in the Mid East, and wore more black than our conservative Irish Catholic family deemed appropriate.

John was always sweet natured and kind, but the thing that really made him stand out in our family was that he was always so respectful. For example, as a child he would play quietly and independently if he knew his mother, a writer, was working on a deadline. That kind of respect stood out – especially given that we hail from a family that struggles with volume control, even in the best of times.

Today, that same respect is obvious in his commitment to always being fully present in the company of others. That evening, I could not tell you whether John had left his phone at home, in the car or if he had it in his pocket. Of the dozens of people I saw enjoying the beautiful evening, he was the only one to not access his phone.

I am ashamed to admit that I too am guilty of checking my phone often when out socially. With a phone in hand, it is too easy to pop on Facebook while out for cocktails with my daughter, or to shoot off a quick text while out for coffee with a friend. And like most people, this is not a habit that I am proud of.

History will one day reflect poorly on our current age for the toxic relationship most of us have with our phones. For even when close friends place their phones in the center of a restaurant table with every intention of remaining present, each buzz and beep beckons for their attention.

That night I couldn’t help but pull up a one hundred year old photo of my grandfather, laughing with friends outside of the historical Hendrick I. Lott House in Brooklyn. My nephew is a history buff, and I knew how much he would enjoy seeing the photo.

However, once I had the phone in hand, I couldn’t resist scrolling through the notifications that had popped up on the screen. That is the thing that is so frustrating – passive phone use has become second nature for many of us, despite how it negatively impacts our relationships.

Even though we had a lovely evening all in all, as I drove home I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty over my phone use. Being present is the greatest gift that we can give to family and friends. It is also a huge boon to one’s own sense of peace and well being. One thing is for sure, at our next meet up, John will not be the only one without a phone.

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