Avoiding Eye Contact in Public

To my Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ friends—if you were to see me at the store, or at the airport, in Starbucks, or even miles and miles away on vacation, would you stop and say hi?

Up until recently, I wouldn’t have. I realized that my husband and I were ducking into the nearest aisle at the grocery store to avoid a run-in with an acquaintance from our pasts, or pretending to check our cell phones if we didn’t feel like a (probably pleasant) five-minute exchange. Haven’t you?

It wasn’t until I ran into (and didn’t speak with) someone who I actually would have enjoyed catching up with that I realized how much I’ve become an avoider of all run-ins.

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Social media has created a world in which I know someone’s most intimate details—what their engagement ring looks like, the name of their dog, where they work, and, oftentimes, their dreams for the future—but I wouldn’t even stop to say hello at the grocery store.

I actually deleted Facebook for about two years, and I barely missed it. I signed up again after hearing about the beautiful photos of our wedding that were posted online, and soon after doing so I received a few hundred friend requests spanning 24 years of friendships, acquaintances, internships, and jobs.

Since, I’ve reconnected with some long-lost friends, happy to learn about their accomplishments and adventures. I also heard from classmates that I never said more than a few words to, and even a few people that I have never met.

But still, when I recognize a semi-familiar face in TJs or Home Goods, I usually become instantly engrossed in whatever item I’m standing near or finally answer that text that’s been sitting in my inbox.

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I am not sure I like the way social media has made me increasingly social online and decreasingly social offline.

From now on, provided I have a few minutes to spare, I am going to make an effort to have an actual conversation with any “friends” that I run into—that means I have to stop playing the game of “I just want to add her so I can see what she’s up to but I have no intention of acknowledging her in the future.”

Put it this way: If I wouldn’t be comfortable having a conversation with you in person, we probably shouldn’t be sharing our Instagram selfies.

While I certainly can’t force anyone to do the same, I hope you consider it. I don’t want my kids to have more fun with their iPads than with their classmates, and I don’t want them to confide in the internet more than in their own friends. I want them to use the internet to stay in touch and to take advantage of the latest technology, but I don’t want them in a long-term relationship with their WiFi connection.

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