A wise old man once said “those who cannot look you in the eye are either trying to hide a lie, or hide their love for you.” Everyone, from early mesmerists to contemporary self-help gurus have understood the power of looking someone deep in the eyes. However, what would that wise old man have said about eye contact if he lived in 2017? Perhaps he would have said “those who cannot look you in the eye are either trying to hide a lie, their love, or their scrolling through their Facebook timeline”.
Eye contact can be painful, mainly because it makes us entirely vulnerable to those meeting our gaze. After all, direct eye contact creates a moment when we are both very visible, but we also have minimal control over what the other sees. Being behind a phone is much safer. That’s why many of us largely avoid eye contact by gazing at our phones – especially in awkward or intimate moments.
We have all been there. Your walking by yourself and you look up and see a group of people coming towards you. Instinct kicks in and out comes the mobile phone. Then there’s a decision to be made. Do you pretend to be interested in what Johnny from down the street is uploading to Instagram of his new attempts at cooking? Or, do you put that mobile phone up to your ear, pretending to be on the phone? Why are we so afraid of appearing isolated, that we’d rather pretend to speak to someone on the phone than walk past people alone?
It is becoming the norm to hide our feelings through the careful liking of social media profiles. Deferral and avoidance appear much more appealing than the direct intimacy of eye contact. When passively scrolling through our smart phones and news feeds, we keep our minds busy. This leads to a direct lack of self-awareness and a superficial relationship with our followers and “friends”.
Of course, the internet is part of our lives now. We will never be able to go back to communicating exclusively face-to-face. But, thinking digital communication is enough to keep a relationship going is a fantasy. Interacting with friends online grants us greater control over the way they perceive us, and that can be reassuring for our own self esteem. But if we retreat behind Snapchat videos, WhatsApp messages and Facebook posts, we lessen the possibility of an encounter that could teach us about one another and ourselves.
Obviously we don’t want to be entirely rude. An occasional glance up from the phone is not merely a good idea but rather essential. After all, how else are you going to cross a road? Eye contact is important. Not just for the social benefits and remaining with the knowledge of how to be able to communicate effectively. But also, it forces us to take our heads out of our phones and notice the world around us.
We are human. We are flawed. But most importantly, we are allowed to be vulnerable. Let’s try keep it that way. Be brave. Force yourself to make that eye contact.