Edmonds: Put the Phones Down

McCoy Edmonds, Columnist

The other day as I was waiting in the typical long line at Wade Commons office, I reflexively reached for my phone. I stopped, hand midway into my pocket, when I looked up and saw every other person in line with their phone out. I felt something akin to an out-of-body experience looking over the student carbon copies. What were they doing? What was I doing? The American Individualist in me revolted from the scene. I was independent, unusual, not someone who would simply follow group impulses. Right?

I pulled my hand out of my pocket and decided to try focusing. I found that I enjoyed picking up on the personalities of the office workers, the scraps of details from a conversation between two friends, even the weather outside the windows. A study done in 2010 found that no matter what people were doing, whether it was sitting in traffic, being at work or standing in line, they were happier when they were present. Even if they were distracted by daydreaming about something pleasant or planning something fun, their happiness decreased by not being fully present. Our ability to connect, interpret and learn through our cell phones and the mind’s ability to plan, learn from past experience and reminisce are incredibly valuable, but these skills are something we struggle to control.

As a CWRU student, I understand the desire to avoid boredom by playing revitalized games like Pokémon Go or walking to class listening to Beyoncé, but my appreciation of research and my craving for happiness sometimes override my technological pleasures. Everything has a place. The beautiful minutia of life are worth being present for. That being said, I don’t write to tell you to stop using your phone or delete every social media account you have or even to always be present. I only wish to express the contentment I feel when I take a break from my personal distractions. The study only validates my periodic prerogative to focus during the boring parts of life.

There is so much life to observe, learn from and respond to in our most mundane moments. None of us live in a Hollywood movie. Our lives are lived in the work of everyday life. Our best moments would never make the big screen or really even the smaller ones. Life is tough, dull and even abhorrent but it’s made more complex and worthwhile by the contrast made by the moments found best in the enjoyment of a coffee, fresh snow, waves from friends or even noticing other people doing the same boring stuff as you.

I remember walking to Qdoba with a major headache. In an effort to avoid making the pain worse, I focused on responding to the server making my quesadilla. I made eye contact, smiled and tried to stay on top of what she was asking. By the end of the line, I was exhausted. Headaches and interacting with people is a difficult combination. Then, she handed me a cup. I hesitated, telling her I hadn’t ordered a drink. She said she knew, but was simply giving it to me. I brightened and thanked her. That soda was the best I’d ever had. If I had focused on my phone or my own thoughts, I would’ve missed it.

So I offer this for your consideration. Looking up and living through the boring and awkward may be more enjoyable than expected. Taking a breath and moving your thoughts into the present is not a new concept—meditation has long been in practice—but it is one that has gotten increasingly more controversial. Technology is not bad but letting it own your free time is harmful. Consider being happy and look up.

“McCoy is a third-year student who loves oversized sweaters and indie games. Her favorite word is gumption.”