The Problem With Keeping Your Phone On the Dinner Table

Sometimes all we need, is to sit with our friend for a cup of coffee and just start a conversation.

The most substantial addition to our online communication, in my view, is the emoji. I find myself almost every time, adding one to my chat. #sad #happy #lol #exited #pizza #glasses

It is a way to make it more…What’s the word I’m looking for.. Humane? Alive? Real?

I recently got a message from a friend. The message had a #sadface emoji with #Ineedafriend hashtag. I immediately suggested to meet with her for coffee (tea for me). We were sitting in Starbucks, and while the place was packed, it felt like it’s just us there having our intense conversation.

The key was that both of us had our phones in our bags, and not on the table.

What‘s wrong with having our phone on the table?

By avoiding having our phones on the table, it gave the conversations the opportunity to become deep and insightful. When the phone stays on the table, people drop in and out while checking their phones.

I am sure you are familiar with the “rule of three”. In a conversation among five or six people, one must check that three people are paying attention — heads up — before she (or he) give herself permission to look down at the phone so conversation proceeds. But remember, the conversation may proceed with different people having their heads up at different times. The effect, says Sherry Turkle the author of “Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age”, is that the conversation is kept relatively light, on topics where people feel they can drop in and out.

Having that — real, in person, deep — conversation with my friend, made her feel better immediately and gave her the prospective to deal with whatever she was dealing with. Bonus — it made me feel better too.

Same scenario, different experience

A week later, I was experiencing the same scenario with another friend. But this time, my friend was remote — she was at another state on a business trip — and she wanted to talk. So we snapchatted, long electronic chat with hashtags and emojis (I love those emojis #heart).

This conversion was so hard!!! Half of our chat was #pause #Ineedtoseeyourface #notsureIgetit #mixedfeelings #areyousadorhappy #confused .

Why? Because she was not in front of me. I could not see her facial expressions, I could not hear her tone of voice, I could not read between the lines — only read the actual words she was writing.

There is science behind reading social cues while having a face to face conversation

Studies have shown that the way the brain interprets other people’s intentions is through the act of focusing attention on other person’s facial expressions and listening to tone of their voice — Say Terri Kurtzberg and Jennifer Gibbs authors of “Distracted: Staying Connected without Losing Focus by” — and for that, both need to be present or at least see each other’s faces.

Emojis do help when it’s an electronic conversation, but without the other person being present the conversation is missing the nonverbal ques like reading social expressions, hearing the tone of voice, and understanding the overall emotional state.

For example my friend’s eye could be are gazing — not looking at me — which might be an indication that she is not engaged in the conversation, or maybe feeling uncomfortable.

My friend could be nervous and tense, which I can spot by her furrowed forehead ,squinting eyes, lips that are sucked into the mouth, quivering lips or chin, corners of mouth twitching or pulling oddly toward the ear very quickly, etc.

I can only distinguish and understand how she really feels, if she is here — present.

Technology, in my second example, was the best solution under the circumstances, as we could not FaceTime or talk over the phone. But I am sure our conversation could have been much more productive and meaningful if it were to be face to face.

So the next time you have a chance - ditch Snapchat, meet face to face (or at least do a video chat), keep your phone out of sight, and have a conversation! #done

About Tali Orad, Founder & CEO of Screen /Founder of B.E.CPR, Inc
Entrepreneur and engineer, but most importantly, a mom to a son and two daughters, little angels that were spending way too much time on their electronic devices. That’s what inspired Tali to create Screen and reconnect with her family.