What ever happened to eye contact?

One of the perks (or others might say the downsides) of living in a city is public transportation. With just a plastic card you can explore DC or get to work without having to deal with parking, angry drivers and commuter traffic. After descending down into the metro station (are we 500 feet underground? Who knows…), tapping in, going down yet another set of escalators, there is usually 2–5 minutes of waiting for a train to arrive (depending on the mood of the Metro system on that particular day).

Waiting 3 minutes should not be a huge problem. But inevitably most people on the platform do the same thing: pull out their phone. A whole row of people in various levels of business attire with their eyes glued to these little devices and their ears plugged but a device connected themselves completely to the phone, completing the circle, if you will.

These people* could not tell you who is standing next to them, what sounds are happening around them, if there is a new poster or advertisement in the station. They couldn’t identify the eye color of their neighbor. Or notice that she had tears in her eyes. Or ask her what is wrong. Or provide some comfort to a stranger.

The doors to the train opens and the sight is the same. There are a few people here and there reading a newspaper but there are those robots again. Plugged in and disconnected from the world around them.

What happened to eye contact? What happened to meaningful conversations? What happened to human empathy?

Cell phones happened. They have changed our lives. Allowing us to be in 5 places at once, schedule our lives, stay in contact with loved ones, let people know we are safe, give us the quick answers we are looking for.

But they have also changed the way that we interact. Scientists from the University of Essex found that the introduction of mobile phones into social settings have “negative effects on closeness, connection and conversation quality.”

So what can be done? Should metro stations ban all cell phones in the same way that texting and driving is illegal in most states? Should the national conversation move away from “wow how convenient!” to “wow how has this phone harmed my relationship?”

There is no correct answer. The phones are here to stay but maybe we can reduce our screen time and increase our face time (and no not that app) by lifting up our heads and removing our head phones. Let’s make eye-contact cool again.

*DISCLAIMER: As a millennial, I am in no way removing myself from this sad phenomenon. Guilty as charged as being completely plugged in.

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