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Are cell phones destroying our communication abilities?

Posted: June 25, 2013 10:04 a.m.
Updated: June 26, 2013 5:00 a.m.

I recently spent a weekend in the Appalachian Mountains with a few friends. Upon arrival, we all noticed one disturbing thing: no cell phone reception. I’m talking maybe one bar of service in one spot in the backyard, slim to no luck with getting one in town and the scary “NO SERVICE” notice among the hiking trails. Basically, for the weekend, we realized we had no access to some of the things we value the most. No Facebook. No Twitter updates. No posting pictures to Instagram. And you better believe there was no way of loading Snapchat. As we uneasily looked at each other, we realized that these were the only people we would have interaction with until our descent from the mountain top Sunday afternoon. We actually had to have conversations with just each other for almost 72 hours straight. No escape through texting someone else or making a “quick phone call” to a friend or family member not present. And absolutely no chance of Facetiming with our pets who were no doubt anxiously waiting to hear from us back home.

After spending the three-hour car ride pretending to listen to what each other was saying but actually texting other friends about how “this car ride is taking foreverrrrrrrrrrrrr,” it was time to reintroduce ourselves. It’s possible we were so tuned into our cellular devices we weren’t even sure who we had so readily jumped in the car with and dedicated to spend an entire weekend with. Once the initial uncomfortable feeling that this was it for the next couple of days settled in, we decided it was probably in our best interest to make the most of the situation. It was already getting late, we were hungry and probably a little car sick from the winding mountain roads. I don’t think anyone was too keen on jumping back in the car for three more hours to be back in the comfort of cell phone reception -- though there’s no doubt it crossed each of our minds.

For the rest of the weekend, the only time we used our phones were to take photos as reminders of the beautiful and fun things we saw and the time we spent together. Unless it was for a photo op, our phones were who knows where. The morning of our departure we actually spent a substantial amount of time searching for our phones because none of us could remember where they were. Usually, I know at all times where my phone is. It usually stays no more than out of five inches within my grasp. However, after having little to no use for it during my stay in the mountains, I not only had no clue where it was but I also wasn’t concerned with its location until it was time to leave and head back to a place where I could have full bars of constant cell phone reception.

I’d always heard rumors that communication using texting or other forms of social media were affecting real life communication, but up until this weekend it had never occurred to me that it was affecting my own communication skills. Upon hearing these sorts of statistics and scientific studies I’d think to myself “well I have no problem carrying on a conversation, so this doesn’t apply to me.” I thought I was above the statistic. And while, yes, I usually don’t have much of a problem interacting face to face with humans, I do have a problem with uninterrupted interaction with others. I can’t think of the last time I shared a meal with another person and our phones weren’t both on the table where we could see them in case someone else who wasn’t there desired to contact us. Or God forbid we get a Facebook or Twitter notification that we can’t immediately check. Not only is the presence of social media taking away our ability to communicate in honest and straightforward ways in person, it’s also taking away our ability to be “all there.” I can’t remember who said it, but there’s a quote that goes along the lines of “wherever you are, be all there.” And that’s the problem that society is now having. We can’t just go to dinner with another person or a group of people without constantly being other places as well because of the abilities our cell phones now have to transport us (at least our minds) somewhere else other than our present location. I’m not talking about your mind drifting; that’s pretty much unavoidable. I mean conversations with other people about other things while you’re in the company of probably at least one enjoyable person or at least enjoying a somewhat edible meal.

It can probably wait. The text from your brother asking what movie he should watch on Netflix tonight or the text from your best friend asking which picture you think she should make her Facebook profile picture … they can wait until your meal or your conversation is over. I learned a valuable lesson from my trip to the mountains. For starters, not having cell phone reception is more than likely not the end of the world. And that if you’re going with a group of people anywhere isolated, you better make sure you like them at least a little bit. Especially if you don’t have cell phone service. Otherwise, you’re in for a weekend of wandering around looking for that one glimmering bar of hope and fantasizing about hitchhiking back to civilization.

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