If you’re reading this on a cellphone somewhere, please stop. No, seriously. You can read it on your computer or in an actual copy of the paper but, please, stop reading this and look around you.
OK, are you back in your office or at your home?
It’s disturbing how often our cellphones become an escape from the here and now. I get it: We’re waiting in line to order a hamburger and we want to do something, so we plan our vacations or send text messages to our friends.
In the process, we’ve lost sight of what’s around us. It’s as if we’ve covered our eyes with electronic blinders and we can’t be bothered to pay attention to our surroundings.
I was recently driving through town and noticed a woman walking a large, chocolate Labrador along the sidewalk. His rear legs were pointed out as he walked. As I drove by, I noticed that the woman held the leash on her wrist as she was completely absorbed in her cellphone. Seconds later, the dog relieved himself on the sidewalk while trying to keep up with his oblivious owner. The dog looked uncomfortable as he tried to multitask.
I realize dogs are an enormous responsibility and that every time someone walks a dog, that person may not feel the urge to dedicate his or her complete attention to a conversation with the family pet.
“Hey, Tigger, look at that squirrel over there. Oh, wow, there’s a bunny. Do you see the bunny? Oh, wait, there are two bunnies.”
“What do you smell, Fifi? Was there another dog here a few hours ago and did he leave you a little scent present?”
We don’t have to connect with our pets every moment of every day. But wouldn’t it be nice if we were able to pay them some attention while we were out walking them? After all, how often do they come over to us when we’ve had a tough day, or give us their paw—or offer us companionship?
Everywhere we go, we have the opportunity to tune out the world around us and surf our way to somewhere else.
It’s thrilling to travel halfway around the world and send pictures instantly of a magnificent sunset, or the Eiffel Tower or a three-toed sloth. We can be connected to almost anyone almost anytime.
That shouldn’t give us license to disconnect from the people and the pets around us. It’s the economic concept of opportunity cost applied to our attention. The opportunity cost of paying attention to what’s on our phone is that we ignore our surroundings.
Remember those public service announcements which said, “It’s 10 o’clock, do you know where your children are?” Maybe we should have messages that pop up on our phone suggesting that “It’s 6 o’clock, do you know where you are,” or maybe, “It’s 6 o’clock, pick up your head and check out the here and now (or H&N).”
Maybe we should also develop an H&N logo we can put on clothing or notebooks. It can even become a verbal reminder to our companions.
“Class,” a teacher might say as she noticed her students taking furtive glances at their phones, “H&N, right? Let’s learn the material now, while you’re here.”
H&N may be a way of encouraging us to be where our bodies are at the moment, and not where the internet has taken us.
Dogs, meanwhile, shouldn’t have to multitask while they’re relieving themselves. If Fluffy could talk, she might say, “For goodness’ sake, H&N, I need a moment here.”