kissing in cinque terre

Look at Life and Love Instead of Your Phone

My heart warmed when I saw them from a distance. I was on my weekly run through the city when I spotted the couple holding each other by a stoplight at a busy intersection. They were young and in love—it was only them and nothing else existed.

As I approached them, the gap closing quickly between us as I ran, the warmth slipped away. My eyes had played tricks on me. Despite the sunshine beating against my sweaty skin, I shivered. They weren’t holding each other. They were looking at their phones.

From a distance, the beautiful illusion seemed so real. The couple was positioned in such a way that they could have been wrapped in each other’s arms. He faced her and she faced him. But instead of looking into each other’s eyes, or her head resting against his chest, they were devoted to the powerful screens they held tenderly in their hands.

I ran past them, and I could feel the emptiness that shouldn’t have been there. Tears flooded my eyes and I picked up my pace to pound the image away. But, it wouldn’t go away.

“The typical American checks his or her smartphone once every six-and-a-half minutes, or roughly 150 times each day.” – Baylor University Research

That was when I realized how incredibly profound that moment was. I couldn’t remember the last time I saw a couple showing affection—it was happening less and less every year…hell, every day.

When I first moved to Portland, it reminded me of the first time I visited Paris way back in 2004—long before smartphones had taken over. For whatever reason, there are many couples here.

As a writer, sometimes I wonder if I’m being observant or theatric with these realizations in life, but I had several single friends confirm this to be true. They struggled to find a mate, because so many were already taken.

I grew accustomed to couples kissing and hugging each other in public. Springtime was especially ridiculous, with the constant ass-grabbing and ear-nibbling. I used to get annoyed with couples hiking too slowly in front of me while I was trying to workout, because they were so wrapped up in each other.

Now I don’t see it at all. I see affection for our phones instead of each other.

Some of you may remember my obsession with the bench at Pittock Mansion, which I called the Lovers Bench, and wrote several posts about two years ago. The bench made such an impact on me that it even weaseled its way into the dystopian novel I’ll be finishing very soon.

For those who aren’t familiar, there is a bench with professions of love carved into the wood at one of Portland’s most gorgeous city viewpoints. The first Lovers Bench was removed and I contacted Portland Parks & Rec to get to the bottom of it. (Yes, I will get this batshit crazy over something I care about…even when it’s rotting, vandalized wood.)

The Lovers Bench was in bad shape and they replaced the boards, much to my dismay. I was upset that the carvings were gone forever, but soon more carvings began to appear on the new bench.

Sadly, they have appeared much slower than before. Every time I visit the bench I look for them, and there aren’t very many.

lovers bench

I took a shot of this couple back in 2015 when I was completely obsessed with Lovers Bench, which they are sitting on here. What would they be doing now if they were sitting on that bench? Would they hold each other while enjoying the view? I’m afraid they wouldn’t, and they would stare at their phones.

What about the couple I passed on my run? Two years ago, they might have held each other—or at least looked at each other while talking.

What about this older couple I captured in Milwaukee in 2012?

old couple on bench

Or, these two at a San Diego beach that same year?

beach couple

What about these newlyweds in Rome last summer?

rome wedding

This dancing couple on Holbox Island in Mexico a few months ago?

salsa on the beach

What about us?

holbox island at sunset

It makes me sad, but it also makes me aware of what I’m doing when I’m around my husband and other people.

We can all make a better effort to use our phones responsibly. There are countless articles out there with tips on how to be more present by putting our phones away. You can work with your partner, like Mr. H and I do, and commit to some ground rules—like no phones while eating, on Sundays, whatever.

We have the power to connect with others like we used to, but it takes awareness that so many of us have lost inside our screened worlds. You know our society is facing an epidemic when a kitschy term comes along.

“70% said that phubbing hurt their ability to interact with their romantic partners.” – Baylor University Research

Phubbing combines “phone” and “snubbing” to describe the social phenomenon so many of us know intimately today—when a conversation or moment is interrupted because someone chooses to pay attention to their phone instead of the life that’s happening in front of them.

Nothing is as important as each other. I think we humans all know this, even still. But we’re losing sight of it so quickly. There is no doubt that the technological wonders we hold in our hands—these smart devices that are supposed to connect us—have become the barriers that now separate us.

There is a time and a place for using technology to our advantage. I’ve certainly connected with many incredible people I would have never met otherwise, and I’ve stayed in touch with people I rarely get to see.

I’ve spent plenty of hours in the screened vortex to know that real experiences are unbeatable. You won’t miss out if you ignore your phone from time to time. But if you ignore the life and people right in front of you, you will miss out.

50 thoughts on “Look at Life and Love Instead of Your Phone

  1. I see this all the time with parents and children (parents not attuned to their children, who crave the parent’s attention, because they’re so busy with their phones), but I hadn’t thought about it for couples. Very sad all the way around. Important post. 😊

    1. Agree, Carrie! I was just telling Gallivanta that I steered away from discussing that observation since I don’t have kids myself. I imagine it’s VERY challenging for families today with all of these distractions. Things were definitely easier when I was a kid!

  2. The phone obsession only sometimes bothers me; it depends on how it’s being used. I take public transportation every day for my commute. I’m on the train for about 15 minutes. And I try not to use my phone at that time. But I see many of my fellow passengers absolutely glued to them. A good peek around reveals that about half are scrolling through some kind of feed. But the other half is usually reading a newspaper or ebook and I think that’s ok. Because then the phone isn’t a connection outlet, but rather just a convenient tool.

    1. Absolutely agree, Lunar! An older gentleman yelled at me to look up from my phone in public one day, but I was looking at my Google maps to figure out where I was going in an unfamiliar neighborhood. I let him have his rant, because I know where he’s coming from. But…we certainly use our phones for many purposes.

      I commute on a train as well, and notice similar behavior. I listen to music and work on my laptop, so I am VERY plugged in during that time. But, it’s focus time for me before I get to the office. To each their own, right?

  3. As a teacher I deal with phones all the time. When I first started teaching fifteen years ago there were no cell phones. It’s a huge problem now. Young people grow up not knowing how to communicate face to face. Sad.

    1. Oh, I can only imagine! Pagers were a thing when I was in high school and they were banned from school. Didn’t stop any of us from screwing around with our pagers anyway! There was only so much you could do with pagers though. 😉

  4. Soooo true and important! People seemed obsessed with their phone instead of the world around them. I guess we have to make the difference within our own families, and then hope it spreads from there.

  5. Yes, no phones at the table. No phones many times, actually.
    I am one of those people who thinks it extremely rude to stop and look every time a phone makes a noise. The number of people who do it is maddening. I often walk away.

    1. No phones at the table is a staple. I love that you walk away if someone starts using their phone in front of you. I just stop talking and stare at their phone. If I’m at work, I start working again. Once they apologize, we resume the conversation. 😉

  6. Excellent post, Britt! As someone who still owns a flip phone, I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s sad to see families dining in restaurants “together” yet everyone has their faces buried in their phone.

  7. Well said, Britt. I remember seeing a cartoon picture when I was younger of a man sitting alone on his bed watching the sunrise on TV and the sun was rising outside his window. Now we see life through our phones – which is even sadder.

  8. I do enough screen time in my 8 to 5. I like picking up a real book for a good read. I love the quality time spent with my adventure partner. I enjoy escaping to nature and the Great Outdoors. Thanks so much for the reminder! Life is short, Live it 🙂

    1. Same here! During my free time, looking at a screen (no matter how small) is pretty much the last thing I want to do. Going outside, reading, or having a great conversation are all WAY more satisfying.

  9. I’m with you, Britt. Why sit looking at a little screen when you have a live person right there beside you? I got phubbed a lot right before my divorce. It was so deliberate, painful, and incredibly rude.Nothing is more disrespectful to me than having your spouse sit beside you on the couch, texting with someone else and not saying a word to you.

    1. Totally, hon! Don’t get me wrong…I use my phone to stay connected with people I can’t see in front of me. But there is a time and a place, definitely not when my husband and I are hanging out.

      Sorry to hear about all of that. I’m glad you’re doing well! xo

  10. Totally Britt. But the reason I resist acquiring a smartphone is that I, too, will become obsessed; walking into lamposts, falling into roadworks, walking under a bus. Or worse, become one of those drivers that kill children because I got a text. However, I imagine that – in a short space of time – slavish attention to a phone will become passé and an historical curiosity.

    Not that I’m as romantically inclined as you. Even in someone’s company I’d rather absorb and share the sights and sounds of the immediate world rather than miss them all gazing into my companion’s eyes 🙂

    And great that you’re working on another book. I’m intrigued as to what you’ll come up with, but it will be good.

    1. I hope this all becomes a historical curiosity soon, Roy!

      The romantic theme stemmed from seeing that couple together…got me all fired up! I am totally with you on absorbing life around us far beyond the screen. So many things get sacrificed when we are stuck in our digital worlds.

      This is the same book I’ve been carrying on about. Think it’s been 2 1/2 years at this point? (Puke!) Needless to say, I am SO over it and ready to release the damn thing. But I do want to try a more traditional publishing route this time. No rush to self-publish after doing it a few times. 🙂

  11. Such a good reminder, Britt. I’m hearing more people setting rules at home and my students are happy when I have “no technology” days at school so maybe people are slowly learning to find the balance after the initial “new-ness” of it all!

    1. Hey, doll face! “No technology” days…such a great idea! I bet your students do welcome that. It’s refreshing to focus for a change, and sometimes we need encouragement from others to do that. Good on you for being the encouragement they need!

      Hopefully this will calm down soon. I know I’ve gotten better about it, and people around me are working on their habits. xo

  12. Great post and beautiful pictures. I do use my phone more for information, but I try hard not to use it when talking to others and I definitely don’t do it while walking around– it’s a gum and walking thing. I even try to do math in my head from time to time. Hope you and Mr. H are well!

    1. Thanks, Dannie! Yep, same here. Our phones are definitely useful but we don’t need to be joined at the hip. I have enough to keep up with…don’t need to multi-task every moment with my phone too!

      We’re doing great, thank you! Hope you’re doing well. 🙂

  13. It is such a sad fact today. Families sitting around the dinner table, each and everyone with their blasted phone in hand or beside their plate.

    We have a rule at my house. No phones at dinner! We already rarely see each other as I live with two young adult men and I work stupid hours so when we do manage to sit together the three of us, I want us all present!

    1. Hey, Dale! Delayed response on my end, but here I am! 🙂

      “Blasted” phone is a good way to describe it. It’s one of the worst feelings when someone whips out their phone in the middle of a conversation or moment anymore. I cringe a little, and I remember that when I have the urge to grab mine (usually, for no particular reason).

      No phones at dinner is one of the best rules. There really is no place for that distraction when you’re sharing a meal with the people you love—especially when you don’t spend a lot of time together.

      1. Hey delayed is good! Totally get that 😉

        I know what you mean about whipping out phones mid-convo (unless it is to Google something to settle a question/argument at everyone’s okay… 😛 )

        Yep. Ex-nay on the one-phay at dinner!

  14. Yes, I have this problem. It includes time on computer also. I liked when you said I won’t miss time on phone but will miss time with people. This is very true.

  15. Well said Britt Im so happy we did not have smart phones when my husband and I met. People need to open their eyes and just be in the moment without taking photos or texting. Being a writer, you observe things that others don’t and I love that about you.

    1. I had to think back to remember if Mr. H and I had smartphones when we met each other, since that was ages ago. We had cell phones, but NOT smart phones. They were strictly texting and calling devices, and he asked me out over whatever flip phone I had at the time. Still, things were much more simple!

      We definitely need to open our eyes more to life around us, so we don’t miss it.

      Awww…thank you! I love your many beautifully important life observations as well, Kath! xo

  16. Totally agree to the loss of real human interaction. Even in families the phone can be such a terrible distraction that bonding is greatly affected. We do have a choice though like you mention,to learn to be ok to step away from the electronic devices and live in the present.

    1. Absolutely. Family bonding is WAY more difficult. I feel lucky to have grown up in a time when smartphones didn’t exist, and I can only imagine how challenging that must be for parents today.

  17. A subject very dear to my heart. And so many tweens and teens suffer from an artificially created social anxiety because Instagram and Snapchat et all let them know immediately when they’re being left out from the “circle” of social activity that often takes place just so it can be recorded instead of enjoyed. It drives me nuts. I hate it when a face-to-face interaction is interrupted by a ding or a buzz or a constant darting of eyes to the screen. And if adults have such a difficult time with this distraction, you know how powerful the pull is for kids who have even less impulse control. Thanks for this post, Britt. I’ve been in and out of posting on WP and have been missing you. Cheers, dahlink!

    1. It would be SO hard to be a teen these days! Things were hard enough during those times without piling all of this technology onto everything.

      Just the other day Mr. H and I were hiking at the coast and I took a few pix for an Instagram story. Then I never ended up posting it. Because you have to post those images within 24 hours, I “missed my opportunity” to publish my Instagram story but I was fine with it. I’m more annoyed that I was even thinking about that on our beautiful hike!

      I’ve been in and out of the WordPress world as well! Miss you, doll! xo

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