A few days ago I was waiting for my student who was meeting with me for the first time. We had arranged to meet in front of the local library. It was a glorious day – made all the more special after a week of relentless rain.
I was early as I am ‘painfully punctual’. I tag that for myself as I must not be late and the annoying flip side is that I am impatient with others who are tardy! On this occasion I was very content to sit in the beautiful gardens encasing the library, simply enjoying the breeze and the early morning activity between the gallery, park and library.
I left my phone at home.
I could not submerge myself into facebook, messenger, texts, google, duolingo (Spanish) or any number of gathered apps. Mind you, I usually don’t pull out my phone when I am in a situation of waiting. I like to enjoy the to and fro of my surroundings although I do resort to my phone if kept waiting too long. Mainly in anticipation of an explanation!
On this morning though, at a perfectly civil time of the day in an absolutely normal waiting place – I noticed that the overall reaction to my sitting and looking out and around was – discomfort.
There were others in proximity – and you have guessed where this is going – they were all disengaged from the trees shading us, the shine of the sun which always seems brighter when missing for days on end, the softness of the air, the birdsong and the passing of workers, shoppers, students, toddlers, parents and people – a steady interesting stream of them. For a host of reasons on that stunning morning in a pretty town square, everyone else in the near vicinity poised in a position of waiting or taking pause – were all fully invested in their devices.
I mentioned discomfort and that is exactly the vibe I picked up more than once when a passer by mistook my lack of attention to a device as an over interest in their good self. It reminded me of other situations when not adhering to the new era of digital attendance in all situations (even walking and for goodness sakes crossing roads with real traffic – let’s hope the drivers are not on their devices too) has led to an aura of strangeness. Do we feel compelled to look into our phones in any waiting situation so we don’t look ‘strange’?
In a medical reception recently I was content just to wait without using my phone and had no interest in the usual out of date, cheap magazine fare. I was ok with just sitting and waiting. I noticed the receptionist raised her eyes to me more than once and I realized that I was making her uncomfortable because I was not following the new social norm or at the very least – the old one of flicking magazine pages.
Today it seems that connectivity is key and no doubt a whole lot of great connecting is achieved in all those ‘waiting’ situations. There’s nothing wrong with browsing, gaming or using time wisely. I just hope that there never comes a time when it is just not ok to just sit and wait, at least every now and then, especially when it happens to be somewhere very beautiful.