Mobiles and cheap data have had a massive impact on how people relate and talk to each other. With everyone on their mobiles, the way people use public spaces has changed so much in the last decade or so. Now, there is hardly anyone in public transport without a mobile in their hand, and the screen along with the almost mandatory earphones. It offers such an easy and convenient way to create a boundary around oneself, and hold off uninvited contact much more effectively than a newspaper or a book ever did.
There is something about being on the phone which seems to send out a universal “Do not disturb” message that everyone reads loud and clear, and it is only in times of true exasperation or emergency that one steps over that boundary and says, “Excuse me! Can you look at me for one moment? I am trying to get your attention!” but even that would be only with someone one knows well or the perfect stranger who is blocking your access, and even then, it is only a quick interruption – not a real request to put the phone down and interact.
Check in with yourself: How easy is it for you to bring yourself to interrupt somebody when they are on their phone? I would bet it is really difficult. You probably try to see what they are busy with. Are they playing a game? Watching a movie? Reading something? Chatting with someone? Talking to someone? On a video call? The order of these come with an increasing level of difficulty in disturbing the person. Somehow, we seem to hold back a lot more when we see a person on their mobile, and it is not just difficult with, say, a stranger on the metro but also with people in your own life, no matter how close the relationship. I would even argue that it is probably much harder to interrupt your partner than it is to interrupt a stranger.
What is it about being on a phone that makes people stay back a little?
Considering that mobile phones and data were barely around even ten years ago, the respect and space we accord to someone on their phone might just be the assumption that perhaps they are actually busy with something specific and important, some urgent matter that is more significant than us. But, we are quite aware, given our own mobile usage, that much of it is just passing time, right? Shouldn’t that make it easier for us to interrupt and demand attention? Yet, we typically don’t.
For people in relationships, this becomes quite the bother. People are on their phones a lot more, and since we are somehow programmed to back off and wait, till we just cannot wait any longer, it is creating a lot more distance between people. It is decreasing possibilities of spontaneous and real-time connections.
We are waiting a lot more to reach each other, and that is not great news for love.
As written for The New Indian Express
Ajanta, Mahesh and other InnerSight counsellors and guest contributors are happy to share their thoughts here.