Look Up, Down, or Not at All

Look Up, Down, or Not at All

Do you remember the Look Up video?

Now I’ve been seeing Can We Auto-Correct Humanity shared quite a bit:

They are well-done videos…that seem to assume a lot about people and the way they use technology

Yes, My Phone is Out

If you see my wife and me having coffee and tea and our phones are out, you’d be wrong to assume we are a couple that doesn’t communicate.

After work, the first thing we usually do is sit on the couch and talk…sometimes for hours. We walk most days, and on those walks we either talk or walk in silence. But if we’re getting coffee and tea, you’ll usually see us with our phones out and scrawling in notebooks and talking. When we get coffee and tea, they are usually times when we have agreed to talk about webpages and plans, so yes: phones come out as we look up information.

Technology is Not the Problem

We dedicated an episode of the weekly podcast I do to technology. We definitely talked about how we know some people who cannot go very long at all without bringing out their phone and looking at social media, texting, and things like that. But we also discussed that the problem is not technology (or even the people using the technology).

The Problem is Our Own Perception

If I see a couple in a restaurant on their phones, I don’t know why they aren’t talking to each other. It’s presumptuous of me to assume they can’t go ten minutes without checking their phones.

I don’t know if they are visiting the area and looking up directions to their next stop, or if some family thing is going on and they are keeping track of a situation. I don’t know if they are on the verge of separating and they are looking at things from their lawyers. But I do know this: humans are good at looking at a couple with their phones out at dinner and amplifying that. Suddenly, a handful of people looking at their phones at a restaurant becomes, “I went out to eat and everyone was on their phones! Nobody communicates face-to-face anymore — we’re doomed!”

When I go to restaurants, the majority of people I see are still talking to each other with their phones put up. To say things like, “No one communicates face to face anymore!” would mean restaurants and other places people meet up would be disappearing at an alarming rate.

I live in a small town, but if you see a new building going up — chances are — it’s a restaurant. People are meeting face-to-face probably more than any other time in history.

Another Thing We Do Not Consider

I know a lot of reclusive people. For whatever reason, they are not the biggest fans of face-to-face communication. For these people, social media and other things puts them in touch with people who have similar interests, even though it’s not face-to-face over dinner or in a living room. Is that any less real than trying to talk to someone in a loud restaurant or bar?

And let’s not forget all the people who are alone or disabled, and how being online — for the first time ever — has provided millions with the ability to communicate and finally be heard.

Maybe that person on SnapChat is sharing a story with someone who cannot get out. I know I will never see all the places I want to see before I die, so friends sharing their travels online allows me to at least get a taste of a place…and when I travel, I try to share for the same reason.

The Assumption

There is a big assumption in these videos…that, when I see someone post a photo of their new, big house (and I’m writing this in a tiny room that doubles as storage space in a small apartment) it makes me feel bad about myself. But it doesn’t — I’m always happy for my friends. (Hell, even people I don’t particularly like who have nice things…good for them!)

I know, I know…there are studies that show some see people posting about their good fortune as bragging, but guess what: there were jealous people long before social media came along! Those kinds people will always see everything as an attack against them and all they believe they don’t have…and it doesn’t matter if it’s seen online or in person.

What is Wrong with You

Really, it comes down to this for me: how is that person on their phone in a public place hurting me or society to the point that I have any right to judge their use of their device? Sure, if you play Words with Friends hours a day and complain to me about how you don’t have time to write, I’m going to laugh in your face and tell you the time is there if you want it to be there. But if a person wants to play games on their phone for hours each day, more power to them! It’s not my place to tell others how to live their lives, and even more — it’s quite presumptuous for me to say, “What’s right for me is how you must live your life as well!”

I don’t watch much TV, but I don’t care if you do. I don’t play video games, but I don’t care if you do. I don’t go to clubs and bars and stand around nodding at acquaintances, but I don’t care if you do.

(And if we have the right to say, “This is how you must use technology!” then everyone reading this should turn off all push notifications on their phones. Turn off all sound — even the vibrate feature. Only look at messages, email, and other things when you’ve blocked out time to do so. That’s what I do, and I now expect you to do the same!)

If You See Me On My Phone

I am a writer. I love solitude. The last thing I would want to do in a long line is pull out my phone and distract myself when I could be thinking. I rarely listen to music while driving (or even at home) because I’m usually thinking about stories and where I want to take them. Chances are, I spend more time thinking about things than you do — I live inside my head.

I also love people. I’m the guy who gets along with the weird person you talk poorly about when meeting with friends face-to-face. I’ve picked up hitchhikers and spent time talking to homeless people most others just pass by. I meet up with friends face-to-face, and phones stay put away. All that, and I still spend a lot of time online.

I make no distinction between the online world and the “real world.” It’s all real to me. I’d put money down that I’ve had some deeper conversations about writing and other things online than you’ve had during face-to-face meetups where you’ve fumed about people who spend too much time on their phones.

If you see me on my phone, feel free to think, “Oh, there’s another person who can’t avoid looking at Facebook!” or, “Why can’t someone just enjoy a view without taking a photo?!” Feel free to say to yourself (or to your friends), “That’s just like the Look Up and the Can We Auto-Correct Humanity videos.”

You’d be wrong, but you’re free to think what you want.

Meanwhile, when I am on my phone, it’s with purpose — and I’m probably being far more productive in that moment than you are getting bent out of shape that society has lost another person to a tiny screen.


  1. People not being able to look up from their phones means they won’t meet some British lady on the street, Christopher. Geez. And then they’ll get Ebola.

    I don’t get why anyone cares what anyone else does, so long as it’s not hurting anyone. Want to live on your phone? If that makes you happy, knock yourself out.

  2. Christopher Gronlund says

    Yes, one must remain ever-vigilant for “The Ebola.” Look down, and it might just come running up the street and put you on your backside!

    Like you, I don’t get why people care so much. Yes, last week I was in the lunch room at work…all by myself. Nice and quiet. I was eating lunch and reading a book (on my phone!!!). A woman came in on her phone and she was very loud. Drama talk, and I had just come into the lunchroom and turned off the loud, daytime talk show spectacle that was on TV. I got up and left because the woman was so loud and ranting about how her grandfather plays favorites with grandchildren. That is the only time in a loooooooooong time that I can recall someone using their phone and having it bother me.

    I welcome people looking down on their phones and being quiet, instead of talking on them and being loud. Really, those are the only people who bother me on phones: the loud people who are just shy of “KLONDIKE-7426, ARE YOU RECEIVING?!”

    If someone wants to lose themselves in their phone and they are quiet, more power to them. I can only think of very few instances where someone played a game without sound off or chimes for text messages playing. The most annoying people to me on phones are those who let them ring in restaurants and take calls LOUDLY!!! What do I care if someone has their phone sounds muted and takes a call at the volume they’d be using while talking with friends.

    Hell, thinking about it, the most annoying thing in restaurants I encounter are loud groups of people. And, depending on the restaurant, that happens and it’s almost expected. In cases like that, I’d rather have people “looking down” than looking up and being loud mouth-apes.

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