Coming out of my shell: Dummy Dialogue

How my excessive phone usage hinders meaningful conversation

Emily Xia

It was the week before the eighth grade Yosemite trip. A whole week spent outdoors, rooming with best friends and living without parents. The classrooms were buzzing with anticipation. It seemed as if all anyone could talk about was the upcoming trip.

I walked out of my fourth period class, talking to a friend, when she began worrying about the long bus ride.

“It’s going to be so boring.”

I was quick to respond, listing out all the different games and activities we could do on the bus.

“We can chat,” I added, excited for the hours of conversation on the bus.

“Chat?” she responded. “How are we going to do that without our phones?”

My immediate reaction was to laugh. She had become so accustomed to online chatting that the word “chat” was synonymous with social media use. Soon, she cracked up too, quickly realizing her misinterpretation. After a few minutes, the conversation was behind us, and we resumed our enthusiasm.

Illustration by Emily Xia

That interaction happened three years ago, and I haven’t been able to forget it since. At the time, I thought her reaction was so ridiculous it was funny, but now it makes me a little wistful. Her comment was the first direct exposure I had to the overbearing presence that social media was beginning to have in my life.

I have to admit, there are many positive aspects to online chatting. You can talk to anyone at any time, you can reach out to more people and you can save your conversations to refer back to in the future.

Social media isn’t inherently a problem. But when I’m sitting at a restaurant with my friends and we’re all scrolling through our phones, looking at memes, we have a problem. When I see my friend crying and I’m able to comfort her in over text more effectively than in person, we have a problem. When my family is right in front of me and I’m messaging someone else, we have a problem.

We’re far too reliant on our phones to uphold normal conversation, and Houston, we have a problem.

It’s gotten to the point where a lot of our friendships are almost entirely digital. When we meet someone for the first time, we ask for their Instagram handle and scan them on Snapchat. We keep streaks with people we haven’t talked to in years, and we become hung up on our follower to following ratio.

We apologize over text rather than in-person, because it’s easier not to look people in the eye. We panic when we forget our phones at home because apparently, having to spend an entire day at school actually talking to people is emotionally devastating.

Phones are supposed to be an accessory, not a crutch. And it took me way too long to figure that out. Instead of hiding behind my screen during a gathering or checking Instagram at the dinner table, it’s time to go out and interact with real people, not just see their photos.

There are so many things I haven’t discovered about the people closest to me. Their goals and aspirations, their darkest fears. And I suppose you could ask these things through online messaging, but when you can’t see someone while you talk to them, you miss out on the most important aspect of speech: body language.

I once heard that 90% of human interaction is perceived from body language. The emotions, the tone behind someone’s voice, their facial expressions and hand gestures — we could never replicate that behind a simple text message.

In person, there’s no turning back; there’s no reading a notification and ignoring it and there’s no using “lol” or “k” to mask emotions or avoid real conversation. That can be daunting to attempt, but it allows us to have more real, genuine conversations. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like something I could benefit from.

Because in a world full of façades, full of charlatans and frauds, I think we all need a bit more authenticity in our lives.

So hi there! How are you? Let’s chat.