Almost every single one of my classes are located in the same hall on campus. Like most of the buildings, it’s a fairly tall structure, given that I attend a relatively urban university with limited ground space. A few of my classes are on the upper floors, and that necessitates a ride in the elevator. I don’t mind the height, but I have come to hate the elevator.
I didn’t used to dislike them so much. In fact, I actually kind of enjoyed them. It constituted a sort of forced meeting place, a set structure where you may get to engage with a few strangers for some limited seconds each day. Sometimes you’d see an acquaintance and get to catch the latest news. Maybe you’d get invited to a party simply because the other person saw you and was feeling friendly. Or the best was when you’d see the same few people multiple times in a row riding the elevator because your class schedules must have matched up. You’d see an attractive girl and smile, and then be on your separate ways. The next Tuesday, same girl, only this time it’s a hello and the exchange of names. The week after, you’ve got her number and some plans. The elevator was social enough to promote friendliness yet short enough to keep things cordial and quick. It was great, and if you were confident enough, not the worst place to start a conversation.
These days, that’s all changed. I may enter the elevator with three other people, but for all intents and purposes, I’m the only one there. Immediately upon crossing the threshold of the closing doors, every person who enters pulls their phone out of their back pocket and starts browsing whatever social site for the entire thirty-second ride. It’s clear that nobody wants to engage in any sort of interaction, making it a silent, awkward ride to the top.
But here’s the thing: The very aspect of the ride that people are trying to avoid, the awkwardness, is actually exacerbated by their behavior. By silently standing with a bored expression, down-cast head, and listless eyes, they make the ride uncomfortable for all. By not acknowledging the human presence of literally anyone else there, the elevator becomes a box of abashed social anxiety run amok. Everyone is hyper-aware of the situation but refusing to address it.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love my phone. I use it every day, all the time, without fail. But I also consider myself a relatively outgoing, sociable person, with the confidence and skills necessary to have a conversation or to hit on a girl. It seems that being socially anxious and awkward is now considered “trendy.” It has become an endearing quality to be formally inept and unconfident, to shun human interaction, and to retreat within oneself even when engulfed in the most public of places. The phone has become the physical manifestation of that quality. Don’t want to feel even the slightest hint of awkwardness or discomfort? Retreat to your phone. Is the cute girl next to you conjuring up a few fears of rejection? Retreat to your phone. Feeling the pressure of running into an acquaintance on campus? Retreat to your phone.
But do you know what happens every time you fall back to that social safe space, with your head down, unavailable to the world around you? You miss out on life. Your friend doesn’t notice you walking past and invite you to the bar later. You don’t notice the hottie giving you the up-and-down side eye in the elevator. And sometimes you literally just walk head-first into a metal pole right in front of your face.
I guess what I’m saying is to use your phone. Embrace the technological advances that we have been so fortunate to reap. But don’t use it as a crutch, and for God’s sake don’t start getting all socially anxious because of it. Be a confident person, a person who’s not afraid to interact with those around them, a person who says hi in the elevator. Because you’ll never know about the life happening around you if you don’t look up once in awhile..