Attention: The New Compliment

  • Put it on silent.
  • Leave it in your pocket.
  • Don’t even check the time.

I find myself going through this mental checklist more and more. In some ways it feels like it’s the greatest compliment I can give someone when we hang out.

First, I know it’s not expected. Let’s say I’m hanging out with someone. The assumption is that I’m hyper-connected to all things online so I must be on it ALL-THE-TIME. The assumption is that we’ll hang out but I’ll be on my phone.

I have that expectation. I’d much rather be known as someone who asks good questions, who listens, and who cares than someone who knows anything about online life. I mean… one is virtuous and the other sometimes feels like I should have my own creeper van video blog.

I like to blow up that expectation by never once looking at my phone. I want to forget that I have a phone. Sometimes I even turn the thing off altogether. Yeah, it turns off.

Second, I don’t want them to notice. When you pull out your phone and look at it, even in a glancing way, you are communicating to those you are hanging out with that your attention is divided… that you aren’t really there. Now sometimes that’s the best you can offer– half there– but it’s still half there. Even if someone claims they don’t care, they notice. They know that they are not the most important thing in front of them right now and that’s exactly what I don’t want.

I want someone to know that if we’re hanging out, our time together is important to me. In that moment they are the most important thing completely worthy of my attention.

Third, I’m sick of just texting with my friends… I want more! I text, message, Facebook, email my friends all of the time. In a lot of ways that’s how we hang out. But when we’re really together, I don’t want my stupid phone to get in the way because I really value our time together. I don’t just say I wish we could hang out more, I really believe that we should hang out more, so I want to make the most of our time together.

Fourth, I don’t want to give them permission. Our phones are designed to be so stimulating that one person looking at their phone automatically gives everyone else who sees that permission to also look at their phones through the power of suggestion. (Test this out in a public place. It’s hilariously true!) So one of the things I’m thinking about when I am hanging out with someone is that if I pull out my phone to check the time then I’m giving them permission to pull out their phone and check their texts and then we might as well not hang out at all.

In short, I think that in an age where we are so distracted by our devices one of the greatest compliments you can offer is 60 minutes of undivided attention. 

p.s. I don’t really think this is a new compliment, more like an old one re-phrased. 

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in Ahwahnee, California.

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