Last week, I met a girlfriend at Lulu Carpenter’s for some coffee and much-needed gossip time. With the end of the quarter looming around the corner, “coffee and life” was our first choice for a stress-relief fix.
We sat at a table and decided to get a few hard-boiled eggs to share. Six eggs and 45 minutes later, we were left with a mound of eggshells and the conclusion that homework is overrated, men are dodos, and that we should seriously major in procrastination.
Since then, hard-boiled eggs have become our passion. Every time either one of us needs to vent, we simply split a bowl of eggs and peel every last one.
We needed a distraction, an activity to perform while our minds frantically traveled at the speed of light to list each and every one of our stresses, concerns and daily anecdotes.
Our conversation was meaningful, but would it have been less memorable without the bowl of eggs to center our attention?
The fact is that people as a whole need some kind of social activity to distract themselves from each other. “Multitasker” is the average American’s middle name, and with the onset of the digital revolution, focusing on one activity is virtually impossible.
We have lost our ability to sit still and have a legitimate conversation with someone else. We always need to include a third-party distraction, from hookahs to beer pong, either to initiate the connection or at the very least continue it.
Multitasking to prevent the risk of awkwardness has never been more fashionable than with our generation.
Now I would never be one to oppose whatever is en vogue. It isn’t really about multitasking — rather, it’s the idea that we try to avoid the potential awkwardness of a conversation without some sort of distraction.
Picture a group of college stoner boys sitting in a circle passing a bong around. Now take away the bong. You won’t typically find a group of college guys sitting in a circle, chatting about life without some sort of object of diversion.
As a woman, I can admit that we, unlike our male counterparts, can sit together in a circle and have long discussions. However, we still need the comfort of our cell phones, Blackberrys or laptops to keep us occupied.
While these activities may seem perfectly normal to us, if we took a minute to step back and look at ourselves, we would probably look like a bunch of anxious sociopaths, furiously texting or lighting up cigarette after cigarette while attempting to maintain a decent conversation.
We form and base the quality of our conversations on activities like smoking and drinking because those are things we like to do together. People can’t help but enjoy sitting in a circle passing the hookah hose from person to person.
So what ever happened to social interaction, as opposed to social distraction? If someone doesn’t drink coffee or spend all of their time on Facebook, do they miss out on social opportunities they may never get back?
We use these activities to channel our anxious energy, but the real question is why do we feel so naked without them?
The answer is simple. There is nothing that scares us more than an awkward silence. By distracting ourselves with other activities, we allow those silences to slip by unnoticed.
What we as a society consider awkward is actually what it means to be real. From our day-to-day conversations, we want to portray ourselves in a specific light. Feeling vulnerable or awkward immediately strips us down to the basics of who we really are.
Our society’s obsession with not seeming vulnerable by constantly seeming busy is an epidemic.
Renowned psychology professor Albert H. Mehrabian’s studies from the 1960s and ’70s show that in a normal conversation, words account for 7 percent, tone of voice accounts for 38 percent, and body language 55 percent of communication. Knowing that actions speak louder than words, we shield ourselves with tedious actions to avoid opening up to people.
True, opening up to people is scary, but if we turned off the televisions, put out the ciggies, and dumped out the coffee, we would be able to give each other the full attention we deserve.
Although we face the harsh reality that we will always shield ourselves through certain social activities, these are the activities that will perpetuate both positive and negative conversations — and without those conversations, there would never be any change. Maybe the first step to fixing it is to talk about it. And doing so distraction-free may be a step in the right direction.