Before I leave my apartment, my routine goes something like this: check electrical appliances to ensure they’re shut down. Slip into my coat. Drop keys into purse. Apply one last spritz of perfume. Place an earbud in each ear, close the door behind me—make sure it’s locked—and hit ‘Play’ on my iPod before strutting off to my destination.
In the case of last night, that destination was a parking lot a half a mile from my apartment, where I was set to retrieve a Zipcar for an excursion to my friends’ new home in the suburbs. My music was playing at a fairly reasonable level—loud enough to block out the boisterous noise of the Irish bars I passed en route, but not too loud to hear a car blasting its horn—and as I darted down the street, I thought I heard my name being called out. Yet, I kept going, certain I was hearing things.
Turns out, I wasn’t.
“J,” as shown in grey above, is a guy I briefly dated a few summers ago. Even though things didn’t take off beyond a brief flirtation at the time, we’ve stayed in touch, and given his recent relocation to the city, I wasn’t entirely surprised to have run into him.
But technically speaking, I didn’t run into him—I ran past him. Like so many other urbanites, I'm guilty of relying upon my various iWhatevers to keep myself occupied in public spaces, whether it’s scrolling through an app on the bus or plugging my eardrums with pop music while I browse the aisles at Trader Joe’s. Or, as far as last night went, while I sprinted toward a parking lot. While there’s certainly no lack of data proving that our gadgets are interfering with our lives, I always felt, perhaps wrongly, that I was above this technological interception.
“J” is right, I think. Whether we’re using our gadgets to stay entertained or to keep us preoccupied, they’re seriously limiting our ability to connect with other people. And for legions of single people who want to meet potential partners—and especially for those who aren’t interested in online dating, including me—that means putting our devices away (and in my case, removing the earbuds) and paying attention to what’s literally in front of us. At parks and concerts. In bars and nightclubs. And as last night proved, on the sidewalk, too.
Of course, there’s irony that I’m supplementing my argument to put away devices down with a trail of text message screenshots—and sometimes, we use those devices specifically to avoid people (I know I do, at least). But you can bet that I’ll be leaving my iPod at home when I meet "J" for a drink later this week.
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