We may have forgotten how to Be Present…


The Newspaper Men

I sat in a coffee shop today waiting for my friend at a high-top table, the bright, warm sun hitting my back, and I was captivated by the gathering of older gentlemen sitting and reading newspapers, undisturbed by laptops and tablets and phones. There was not much  movement on that side of the coffee shop. No quick gestures to answer phone calls, no incessant scrolling on smartphones, no sounds of typing on keyboards. The only repeated movement was that of the newspaper pages being turned slowly and folded back. I envied the tranquility on that side of the shop.

The area where I was sitting was abuzz with group meetings, gatherings of friends texting as they talked to each other,  businesspeople figuring out their Facebook advertising strategy. As I sipped my coffee I thought to myself, when was the last time I just sat, with no device, and took in the world?

Those men reading the newspapers have grown up without the distraction of multiple devices. They prefer their news to come to them the old-fashioned way, on newsprint in ink that turns your fingers black; With words that, once printed, can’t be updated until the evening edition, or tomorrow’s paper.  Those men are able to sit and read and reflect and be present. Present. How often are many of us just not fully present anymore? How many of us have lost the ability to just sit and be?

The building where I work has a large atrium. My office is on the second floor, so if I go out the door I have a neat perspective of all the tables below. I often stand at the railing and people watch. There are very few times when I look over the railing at the folks below and see anyone sitting without a device of some kind in front of them. Rarely do people sit and read without having their phones at the ready.

I am guilty of the same thing. My phone is like another appendage. I am always quick to answer, quick to respond. My phone serves as my alarm clock and is generally the first thing I touch in the morning upon waking. I look at Facebook, read emails, go on the internet. Rare is the morning when I wake and lie in bed and listen to the birds or enjoy the shadow play on the wall as the sunlight streams in the window.

Our phones and tablets take us from the moment. They rob those around us of the pleasure of our conversation. I cannot tell you how many times I have sat with friends and they pull out their phones. It always makes me wonder, “Is my company not enough?” So,  I pull out my phone and we sit alone together.

By constantly being on devices we also send the message to everyone around us, “Don’t talk to me. Don’t disturb me. I am busy.” I often wonder how many fewer connections are made overall, how much more disconnected are we as a society simply because we are all so often “too busy” to sit and talk to someone new?

I’m not sure of the solution. It isn’t likely I will break up with my phone, I love it so. Maybe we can all challenge ourselves to take an opportunity or two to just sit, without a device, and see what happens. Try enjoying the tranquility and the forced languor of reading the newspaper. Strike up a conversation while waiting at the bus stop, if you can catch anyone before they pull out their phone. Sit with a friend and make a pact to be entertained by only  one another and the stories you have to share. Sit somewhere without your device and just be present and enjoy all that the moment, right where you are, has to offer.



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