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Not So Social Media

Roxanne Henke

A while ago, my daughters and I were out for dinner. Our table wasn’t ready, so we were asked to stand in the bar area while we waited. It was noisy, so there wasn’t much to do besides people watch. My eyes were drawn to a man and a woman sitting at the bar. They were nicely dressed, and based on the way their high-legged chairs were positioned, I guessed they were on a date. But, the reason my eyes fixated on them was because each one had an open laptop in front of them and they were both typing away. We waited maybe 15 minutes for our table and not once, in that whole time, did the couple even glance at each other.

Last winter, I was eating lunch alone at a nice restaurant. A mom and two little girls were seated at the table next to me. I smiled as “Mom” got them settled with crayons and paper. Good Mom. “Good Mom” then proceeded to pull out her phone, put her head down and read and type, read and type. The girls seemed to accept that this was “the way we eat lunch.” Their food came. “Mom” put down her phone long enough to see that each of the girls had something to eat, and then back to her phone she went. Taking a bite. Typing. Taking a bite. Typing.

Watching this made me sad. For that couple. That mom. Those two little girls. And for our society. Has it really come to this? We sit right beside the people we love the most and don’t even look at them?

Lately, I’ve been wondering: What’s so “social” about social media?

Now, I have to admit, I’m not totally blameless in this social media madness. It’s a little too easy for me to look at someone with a drug, alcohol or smoking addiction and think, “It would be terrible to be addicted to something like that.” And then I look down at my hand, seemingly glued to my cell phone, and it hits me, I may be addicted to something, too.

I hear the ping that tells me I have a new Facebook message, I hear the buzzzz, letting me know someone just sent me a text message, and I practically salivate like Pavlov’s dogs if I can’t peek at my phone immediately. I’ve found myself reaching for my phone, automatically responding to one of those social media cues, while I’m in the middle of a conversation with someone else.

We’ve all been on the “other side” of the phone, watching a friend or family member reach for their phone in the middle of a conversation.

More than once a friend from out of town has called me while she’s driving about her city, running errands. “What are you doing?” she’ll ask. I launch into a recap of my day (she did ask, after all) and right in the middle of a sentence I hear, “I’ll have a latte.”

“What?” That’s me, for a second wondering why she’s asking me for coffee. And then I hear the cashier say, “That’ll be $4.75.” And, I realize my friend wasn’t listening to me at all.

Any enthusiasm I had for the story I was telling has burst like an over-blown balloon.

“Sorry,” she’ll say when she realizes I’ve stopped talking. “Go on. Where were you?” She scrambles, mentally trying to reconstruct the conversation. “Uhhh, you were saying something about…?”

Stubbornly, I’m no help at all. Yeah, I’ll admit, my feelings were hurt. But, I sigh and a little less enthusiastically, pick up the conversation. “I’m going to try a new recipe for supper tonight. It’s...”

“A prescription for Jane Smith. I’ve got my insurance card right here. Let me get it. Go on…”

At this point, my brain feels like a ping-pong ball being swatted from one end of a cartoon-like conversation into a completely different cartoon panel. (But the thoughts I’m entertaining aren’t one bit funny.)

“I really should get going,” I say, no longer willing to be batted around.

“No. No. I’m listening. I’m just about done. Give me a second, let me just pay for this prescription and then…”

“No, really, I need to get supper started.” And then, not for the first time, I hang up the phone in tears. It’s all too obvious where I rank on her agenda. Right there below ordering coffee and picking up a prescription at the drive-through drug store. She didn’t want to talk to me, she wanted to check me off her to-do list.

I get it. We’re all busy. Yes, sometimes taking time to really “connect” with a friend takes time.

Sad, isn’t it, when we feel we have to cram a friendship into a half-hearted exchange while running errands?

It seems that staying connected has somehow left us more disconnected than ever. Remember the days when you were tied to the phone by a cord? That cord bound us together with the person on the other end of the line in more ways than we realized. Back then, we couldn’t run an errand while we talked. The only thing we could do was talk – and listen. Actually listen.

Again, I wonder, what is so social about social media?

Next month, I’ll share more thoughts, and solutions, to this not-so-social social media craze. Until then, go ahead, check your messages.

 Roxanne Henke lives, writes and checks Facebook from her home in rural North Dakota. She is the author of eight novels. You can contact her at roxannehenke@yahoo.com.