If there is one thing I am a huge proponent of, it is mental presence. As in, when you are in a place with people, you are not just physically but mentally present. There’s nothing more off-putting than when you’re having a conversation and the other person is constantly checking his or her phone and/or computer and seems disengaged and uninterested in what you have to say.
Our world gives us endless options to be constantly connected, and too often we are so busy being “connected” that we don’t make an effort to connect with those we are actually with. I can’t count myself out of that circle, especially since getting a BlackBerry last summer, but I believe if we don’t make an effort to remain mentally present, the relationships we have in real life will suffer.
What I’m not trying to say is that the relationships we build online aren’t valuable. Sometimes those connections that start out online quickly turn out to be even more meaningful than IRL connections we’ve been working on for years.
What I am trying to say is we can’t place any less importance on every day life, letting ourselves become shells whose bodies sit in classrooms or offices or across the table from friends while our minds are checking what our thousands of Facebook, Twitter and Brazen friends are up to. There’s an important balance to be maintained between building your online network by starting conversations and letting the whole world get to know your amazing personality, and giving the people you are physically surrounded by, whose voices are talking to you, the attention they deserve.
I’m guilty of texting in the company of friends, and occasionally checking in with UberTwitter to keep myself from dozing off in an early lecture. But I’m backing off of that slippery slope in baby steps, and even though it sounds scary, in some situations the best way to really connect in real life is to disconnect virtually: Put your phone on silent when you’re having dinner with an old friend. Don’t bring your laptop to class if you can keep up with the professor by hand writing notes. And by God, release your death grip from the earbuds every once in a while so that people who know you aren’t afraid to approach you for fear of not being acknowledged.
The world, disconnected, can really be a beautiful place, if you let yourself appreciate it.