By Alexis Whiteford |

Spending time with people is important. 

Actor James Earl Jones once said “you don’t build a bond without being present.” Showing up and being physically there is important, but so is being mentally present. In the technology era, there are infinite ways to be entertained. It is easy to be there in person but making sure you are focused on the person you are trying to build a bond with is often challenging. 

As a communication major, I learn about the difference in the various ways humans interact. In person conversations include nonverbal cues, tone and many other important aspects of communication other than verbiage. If you are speaking on the phone, you lose the nonverbal cues. If you are just typing, you lose nonvebral cues and tone. These are key components in conversations. For example, the word “ok” can be interpreted many ways by how it is said. Just typing “ok” can lead to confusion. 

Along with this, a study published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior found that “we do not fully appreciate the degree to which another person feels connected with us when we interact over the phone.” When using your phone or computer to talk to people, you are first talking to a machine and then a person rather than person to person. 

Being present is something that I have struggled with, but I am continuously working on it. I have started putting time limits on my social media. I found that, if I was just standing in a crowd or waiting for someone, I just scrolled through instagram. By putting time limits on social media, I have become more intentional when I spend time on my phone. My friends will often send me messages on social media, so when I receive these messages I just try to focus on responding, not wasting time on the app. 

I was at Union Hall waiting for food the other day. I wanted to check my phone but knew I was low on social media time so I just stood there. My friend went up to me asking why I was just awkwardly standing there. Although it might be awkward at times, I am getting used to just standing there because I am not going on my phone.

In her book Reclaiming Conversations, Sherry Turkle states that because of social media “we lose our ability to have deeper, more spontaneous conversations with others, changing the nature of our social interactions in alarming ways.” Text conversations can be difficult to have meaningful conversations because it takes awhile to share long messages and you have to wait for a response. You may think you are listening and responding to the other person but how often is that really a quality discussion.However, it is harder to say deeper or negative thoughts to someone face to face. 

While you may not have a person near you, you are never truly alone if you have a phone. There is always something new on social media or a person you can message making you it so you’re just alone physically. If we are always distracted, we never fully experience anything- especially conversations. My family lives in a different time zone so I am often messaging them, but I actively have to make sure that I am not messaging them while I am trying to have another conversation with someone right in front of me. 

Each person is unique and has their own story. If you aren’t paying attention you could be missing something amazing. Yes and no answers are easy and are often the response when someone is paying more attention to their phone. If someone is asking you a question and trying to start a conversation, they typically want more than a one word answer. Simply putting the phone away for a few minutes or waiting to send that text can greatly improve conversations and relationships in general.

Missionary Jim Elliot said “whoever you are, be all there.” No matter what, if you are with someone make sure you are fully there. Conversations aren’t real unless you are really there. To build meaningful relationships, you need to be physically and mentally present. There is a true present when someone is present.