Is technology making us awkward?

I watched an episode of How I Met Your Mother the other day that explored the effects of technology on human interaction. It got me thinking. While the idea of technology creating distance between us is definitely not a new concept, it’s something that is often overlooked in today’s fast-paced society. Believe me when I tell you, I am every bit as affected by the draw of technology as the guy next to me uploading photos of his lunch via InstagramHowever, there are certain telltale behaviors that are becoming harder to overlook.

For instance: I am a bit of a creeper. By this I mean that I genuinely enjoy people watching, and one of my favorite pastimes is finding a shady, slightly obscured area from which to gawk at passersby. These days, the crowds that shuffle down the sidewalks of Los Angeles tend to keep their heads down and eyes focused on the tiny screens in their hands. The only actual interaction you see is when someone is so deeply enthralled in a particular game of Words with Friends or rereading old text messages, that they collide with another person doing the same. I won’t lie to you, I once turned a corner and plowed face-first into a telephone pole because the text I was sending wasjust that important—there is definitely no judgment coming from my corner. That said, you would be surprised by how frequently these small technology-based accidents occur.

Let me be clear: technology is great. The advancements made in modern medicine alone more than justify its continued growth. Furthermore, I for one cannot go a single day without my phone or laptop before serious withdrawals start to kick in. However, the amount of people who claim that it is hard for them to make friends (real friends, not Facebook friends or “followers”) these days is overwhelming. Likewise, the use of the word “awkward” as a self-description is a downright epidemic. I am completely guilty of both of these things. Talking to people makes me incredibly nervous. Whether it’s face-to-face or over the phone, I am constantly worried that I will not know what to say. In turn, I tend to avoid interaction with others as much as possible, and then complain that I don’t have any friends. I am convinced that if I could just have all of my conversations through text messaging, I would be a lot more popular with my peers.

No matter what anyone says, we all care about what others think of us to some extent—even if you just want everyone to know that you don’t care. Social networking sites allow us to create a persona and put forth only the qualities, thoughts and photos that we want others to see. In face-to-face situations, you can’t always control what happens or which direction the conversation will steer itself. This can be nerve-racking for all of us self-proclaimed awkward folks.

So what is it about the growth in our use of technology that contributes to this? With access to endless information right in the palm of our hands, you’d think we’d have a little more to talk about. Many experts believe that by interacting with each other so frequently through some sort of device, we have forgotten many of our basic interpersonal social skills, such as tact and empathy. While I am certainly no expert, I think it’s safe to say that they may be on to something.

As I said before, I am one hundred percent guilty of all of the above. Rather than preaching the evils of technology and smashing my phone, I decided to come up with a few simple reminders to help stay grounded—without giving up a thing.

  1. Spend a little time every day without your phone or computer. Take a walk outside without any electronic devices, or sit under a tree and read an actual book—anything that doesn’t require a power outlet. Also, don’t forget to wear sunscreen.
  2. While having lunch or coffee with someone, don’t check your phone every five minutes. Put it on silent, turn it off, leave it in your car—whatever it takes! Try to give the person you are with your full attention and politely ask that they do the same.
  3. When you need to talk to someone, give them a call rather than always texting. It may not seem all that significant, but having that kind of immediate interaction makes a world of difference.
  4. Here’s an easy one: smile at someone. Maybe you’ll make a new friend or maybe you won’t, but acknowledging the presence of others is something so basic that is often forgotten these days. Besides, everyone knows that smiles are infectious.
  5. Always remember that most of those so-called “awkward” moments you seem to keep having are probably in your head. Don’t psyche yourself out! Your nervous cackle probably sounded totally normal to everyone else. 

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