What happens when we look up from our phones

Gabby Seed

One of my most interesting classes this fall semester focuses on the literary study of fairy tales. We began the semester discussing how tales were originally told through oral tradition.

Picture a scene like this: a European family sitting around the fire, darning socks, keeping warm and listening to the animated, energized and theatrical tale-telling of one family member.

I started thinking about the people in my own life who tell the best stories. The people who are almost incapable of producing boring conversation. Favorite teachers, grandparents and aunts came to mind. People of my own generation came to mind as well, but certainly not first.

I thought about some of the stories I tell — interesting anecdotes and funny episodes of my daily life. In recent years, I can count on just my two hands, at best, the number of interesting tales I have to tell.

What changed? Where are the embarrassing moments and hilarious encounters? What do I have to show for myself? What do I have to tell?

Every day I ride the library elevator, and I make a decision to either scroll through Facebook or look up from my little screen. On a recent elevator ride, I opted for raising my head. Almost immediately, the girl in the elevator with me told me she liked my boots, and we talked for the short ride. The interaction forced me to ask myself — what else can happen if I keep my head up?

I consider myself to be an interesting person. I consider my friends, my coworkers and my family to be interesting people. By default, shouldn’t I have an oral tradition of my own — an anthology of stories to tell?

I started noticing this decrease in interesting anecdotes and encounters in college, where there aren’t always hard and fast rules about phone usage.

Contrariwise, at my Catholic high school, phones were banned during the course of the school day. My friends and I passed our break times playing charade-style games, making up impromptu skits and having skipping races in the hallways.

Now, when I get a short break in one of my busy college days, I am less creative, less open and less warm. With my phone in hand, I use those rare breaks to answer mundane emails, hardly aware of what might be happening around me. My best stories come out of my high school experience, and I don’t think it’s too hard to see why.

Maybe I’m atypical — and maybe it’s the opposite way for many of my peers — but at the very least, it’s never a worthless task to take stock of how we’re changed by our phones. We are capable, intelligent social beings who should have control over our devices, not the other way around.

Make yourself a receptacle for stories, open and aware enough to never miss a beat. Grandparents and “Humans of New York” don’t have to be the only sources of real-life tales.

Millennials, as much as anyone else, live on this planet of boundless opportunities and unceasing possibility. What stories will you tell by the fire?

Gabby Seed is a columnist, contact her at [email protected].