The importance of looking up: Why we need to start stepping away from our cellphones

The days are getting shorter, the weather is getting colder and yet every day we still must take strolls across campus on a regular basis. I have come to really appreciate these jaunts as they give me the opportunity to say hello to those I know and become acquainted with those I do not. The intricacies of acknowledgement and greeting are at once subtle, fascinating and terrifying. I find myself, with great frequency, second guessing my interpretations of eye contact, head nods or a movement of the hand in address. Yet, these little social encounters are paramount to our humanity. Holding a stranger’s eye contact for a moment longer than you are comfortable with, smiling at someone you think is beautiful, saying hello to that person you met at a party last weekend – these are all challenges to be embraced, not experiences to shy away from.  One can imagine my dismay, then – as I make my regular commutes between classes, friends’ dorms or dining halls – to see so many of my peers’ faces utterly entranced by the glow of their phones.

We use our phones for everything. We use them to talk to each other, organize our schedules, play games, maintain our finances and even to let the rest of the world in on our every action. The world within our phones is vast and all-consuming, and it’s very easy to get lost within the glowing abyss of our screens. Therefore, it’s really no surprise that, when I walk from science quad to Paresky, those who I pass move absently, undisturbed by the smiles and waves of those whose devices remain in their pockets.

Now, I don’t think it’s right of me to argue that sending an email as you walk between classes is a bad decision, or that texting your friend about lunch is inconsiderate to those around you; however, I can say with some degree of confidence that many use their cell phones as an escape from the uncertainty of micro-interactions. In many cases I would also hold that we use our phones to avoid awkward silences, to end particularly difficult conversations or simply to circumvent the uncomfortableness of prolonged eye contact.

Unfortunately, in many of these aforementioned circumstances, bringing out a cell phone to ease your uncomfortableness only accentuates the divide between you and your conversational counterpart. Furthermore, there are a number of studies (including one published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health) that document the positive correlation between phone usage and lack of sleep and depression. That being said, in many cases, checking your phone is necessary for a variety of reasons. In our age of constant communication and endless information it would be nearly impossible, and doubtlessly inconvenient, to go without a phone. Moreover, being conscious and honest with yourself – not only about how much you are using your phone, but also why you are doing so – is integral to forming meaningful interpersonal connections, maintaining your good health and having substantive conversations.

So next time you make the walk from Mission to Sawyer library or from Currier Quad to Greylock or from wherever you are to wherever you need to be, try to engage with those who share your journey. Everyone around you has lived a truly unique and extraordinary life. They have all done things worthy of your admiration and of your shame. They are all deserving of your attention, as are you of theirs. So next time you put on your jacket and step into the brisk, early-winter air, try to leave your phone in your pocket. Look up, wave to your friends, smile at strangers and wink at your crush. They just might wink back.

Nevin Bernet ’20 is from Topanga, Calif. He lives in Garfield.