It is interesting how smart phones have become tools used as often for avoiding communication as for communication. You may have not noticed – for maybe you were too busy with your phone… – but restaurants, busses, trains, cafes, and other places visited on the daily have quickly become intimate settings for a person and their cellular device. Never before in our history has there been such a substitute for, or distraction from, human interaction.
Often I seek salvage from seeming alone, or idle, by using my iPhone. If I’m traveling by myself on a subway, train, or bus and a group of girls sit near me, there is a 99% chance I’ll have engaged with my phone (if I wasn’t already) before they have breathed out after sitting down. Instead of trying to start a conversation or interact in someway, I’ll become intimidated and seek out an easy way to seem as though, and convince myself that, I’m “busy” – missing an opportunity to be outgoing.
A cell-phone is the perfect escape from such situations, because instead of being forced into extroverted behavior when feeling alone, your friends are always a few clicks away. And even when those friends are not responding, there are legions of other entertainments at your fingertips. In 2012 alone, people downloaded over 20 billion iOS apps – that’s almost three apps for every person on the planet. Needless to say, there is something out there for everyone.
It would be foolish for me to state some cliché like, “put your phones down and act like real people!” The reason being that I am a real person, and I’m not willing to put my phone down. It’s not the phones that are making us avoid interaction; it’s us that are using the phones to avoid interaction. While the majority of people I know (myself included) often use their phones as a form of escapism, there are plenty of people I also know who use their device to enhance communication. People who can make more meaningful and real connections in ten minutes on Twitter than the average Joe could muster after three months of speed dating.
How do they do that? They make sure that they are using their phone in ways that build communication skills or encourage extroverted behavior on social networks. Simply put, they are not aiming for a high score on Brick Breaker, Tetris, or Fruit Ninja. And they don’t idle on their phones waiting for something to happen.
I’m constantly looking for ways to implement self-improvement. And the most apparent deficiency to any American abroad is our countries lack of multilingual citizens. Throughout my life I’ve always found my claim to worldliness undercut by my sole fluency in English. Spending a fair amount of time in Spanish speaking countries has gifted me a limited command of the language; however, my Spanish is good for nothing more than flirting at a bar – and it’s only good for that because girls find my poor use and common errors endearing.
As I said earlier, I’m not willing to put my phone down, but instead find ways to use it more productively. In the pursuit of doing so, my good friend Jake Schlessinger recommended to me a free language-learning app that I have quickly been taken by. Duolingo – Learn Languages for Free, delivers on just what its name and subtitle suggests. For the past year I’ve continually promised myself that I’d begin learning German, but devilish memories of classroom language learning and being greatly intimidated by Rosetta Stones cost deterred me from taking any initial step. After spending twenty-or-so minutes a day for the past week using Duolingo though, I’ve already developed a basic, but useful, German vocabulary. And have been able to do so at my leisure.
The irony is too great for me to not mention. But the communication device I’ve become accustomed to using to avoid communication has now become the device on which I’m learning a new way to communicate at those times I’m avoiding communication. Regardless, if you’ve ever felt urged to learn another language – whether the goal is to become fluent or simply navigate a menu – I strongly recommend Duolingo as a way to get your toes wet.