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Local Editorials

Oh, you're on the phone? I'll wait.

Modern technology has made communicating with friends and family or reading the news an easier and more accessible task.

We’re all certainly benefiting from smartphones and mobile devices, but a few observations last week had me thinking. How does our frequent use of cellular phones affect our interpersonal relationships?

For some, this might not be an issue, but unless you don’t get out out of the house, you know someone who gives their phone frequent attention. Pew released a poll this summer that said 91 percent of U.S. adults had a cellphone and a growing 61 percent of cellphone users had a smartphone.

Last week, I went grocery shopping at the store with my headphones in and the music on. I’ve done it hundreds of times and it’s a pleasurable experience. However, this time I noticed that I was making no social interactions.

In Chicago, for example, it’s easily acceptable and comfortable to wander around, cut off from the world because nobody judges or cares, but in Newton, it was uneasy, almost unorthodox and rude.

The headphones worked as a human repellent. I felt disconnected, because I was.

There was no sense of sound, or my surroundings, and no social interactions. If I had never been there before, it would be hard to give a complete or accurate description of the store’s ambience.

Nobody spoke to me and I didn’t speak to anybody — except at the checkout and good thing. With services like self-checkout, I could have got in and out of the store without a word.

“Is this how we interact with each other?” I thought to myself. “How often are we guilty of isolating ourselves with mobile devices?”

From observation, sometimes when we’re in use of a smartphone we can become a little more unsociable, unapproachable and unaware of our surroundings.

According to the Scientific American, a large study showed that people who chatted in the presence of a cell phone reported lower relationship quality, less closeness and less perceived empathy than those interacting without a cell phone nearby.

It’s like trying to tell a friend about a new relationship, birthday plans or your grandkids and they’re responding with short phrases while texting.

Another study conducted by the University of Michigan reported that frequent cell phone users are less likely to talk with strangers in public settings due to what they call the “tele-cocooning” effect. It’s the tendency of cell phones to reduce interpersonal interactions because of the distraction caused.

If you look around, you’ll notice this everywhere. There is someone spending energy focusing on their phone and less time conversing.

Your wife on the couch next to you, your daughter while grocery shopping, your son while in the car or your friend during lunch.

Cell phones are a telecommunications paradox. They can close us off from social interaction, but yet, at the same time, they can connect us with the world.

Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t trade in my iPhone for a basic cell phone for anything.

I can call friends on the way to a baseball game, text them when I get there, show my pre-purchased tickets at the gate, send a work email in the hotdog line, take pictures of the game and post them to Facebook.

Isn’t that what life’s about?

Anyway, I encourage you to participate in a little cell phone free game next time you’re at dinner with your friends or family. After everyone orders, each must stack their cell phones on the table until it’s time to leave.

However, nobody can touch their phone throughout the entire meal and the first person who chooses to use his or her phone must pick up the check. I suggest silencing your phones so the desire to read a text message doesn’t cost you $60.

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