Just Turn It Off

The Alamo Draft House has a policy about cell phones in their theater. If you don’t keep your phone dark, silent, and out of sight, you get the boot. I love this rule. No one talking, no one on their phones, just the vague sounds of munching and occasional gasps. The Alamo Draft House is my favorite.

When Chesh and I first started dating, I kept my phone in my pocket, and sometimes on the table next to me. If there was a lull in the conversation, I’d check instagram. If someone texted me, I responded. If we were waiting on the check, I’d scroll facebook. Still listening, still engaging in conversation with him, but also on my phone. It didn’t take long before he told me straight out that he felt de-valued when I was on my phone during a date.

Ouch.

But he was right. Every time I checked my phone, even for a second, I was telling him that I valued my time on my phone more than I valued what he was saying.

I am a firm believer in turning my phone off for a movie. If I’m at a movie theater, I turn it off. Not silent, not airplane mode. Off. I value the movie I’m about to watch (since I paid for it), and I value the people around me (even strangers) enough not to ruin a movie for them by a random phone call or text. I always, ALWAYS, turn my phone off for a movie.

So here’s the big question: Would you turn your phone off for a date?

I’m going to take a wild guess and say the answer to that is no. You’re expecting a call, or waiting for a texted response. You’re worried something might come up, an emergency, or a wild fire. You’ll need to take pictures of your food, your date, or look up exactly what the difference is between a calzone and a stromboli. How could you possibly turn off your phone? Wouldn’t it be SAFER to have you phone on, just in case?

There are always going to be reasons to leave your phone on, I get it. Emergencies happen. But the whole point of this little rant of mine is to get you THINKING. What kind of impact is your phone having on your conversations and interactions?

If you’re on a date, turn your phone off. Not silent, not airplane mode. Off. You value the time you’re about to spend with someone, you value the activity you’re enjoying together, and you value the person sitting across from you enough to not ruin the moment by a random phone call or text.

If you find yourself worrying the whole time it’s off, then maybe you need to be re-thinking your electronic habits. It’s GOOD to unplug every once in a while, especially when around the people you love. And for that same reason, my parents have a no-electronics-at-the-table rule. Dinner at the Jones house is about fellowship, being together, talking about life, laughing. Not about who just uploaded what.

Somewhere along the way, we (people everywhere including myself) have learned to hate silence. Hate silence and pauses and waiting. We fill that space with our phone. We pull it out. Even if we have no service and find ourselves scrolling through our apps absentmindedly, we are comforted by the little barrier that separates us from everyone else. We are more comfortable with a tiny brick of wires and a glowing screen than human interaction.

I’m going to challenge you on this one. And I suppose it’s a challenge to myself as well since I am neither immune to the forces of my phone, nor in any great rush to change my habits. I challenge you, us really, to turn it off. When there’s a pause, an awkward moment in a waiting room or in conversation, don’t pull out your phone. Look people in the eye and ask questions. We’ve slowly been teaching ourselves to shut up and keep our head down. Instead, take a chance. Compliment someone. Congratulate. Ask good questions, and L I S T E N. Embrace the silence. Embrace the awkward feeling of meeting someone’s eyes from across a room.

It will change you. Change the way you see the world, and see the people in it. Silence isn’t really silence. It’s the sound of people breathing, hearts pumping. Fans and air vents creaking; birds singing and wind humming. And it’s the sound of people talking and thinking and having opinions and being wrong and being right all at once.

So just turn it off.

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