February 11, 2022 | LIFE | By Esa George | Illustration by Patil Khakhamian

Have you ever sat at a table with a group of friends and heard someone say: “Guys, let’s all get off our phones for a bit?” You glance up from your phone, and you are disappointed in yourself and a little bit in everyone around you — you have all spent the past few minutes plugged in.

It is a collective, little battle that you all want to work together to win, and whichever friend was the one to suggest putting the phones away will get an unspoken, yet deafening pat on the back. Perhaps someone even suggests a phone pile. That’s when you know it is serious.

Maybe we all wish we could win the battle against our reliance on the glow signaling a notification, but you know that if given the opportunity to make it all disappear, you would say “no.”

Why is it that we have these occasional spurts of anti-phone rhetoric? Why is it that the idea of going “off the grid” for some time excites us just enough to the extent that we say “yeah…I’d want to try that,” even though we never actually do?

Reliance on our phones for communication, rather than being in person with one another, has only amplified. The little things, like sharing an in-person conversation with a community member, can now be replaced by a phone call or text conversation.

Casual correspondence is currently expected to be held on an online forum, rather than being an in-person experience. With all of that in mind, the favors and gestures that peers within your community do for each other are diminishing; you might be familiar with community members but less willing to perform acts of service because deep, meaningful correspondences have been replaced through online forums.

Take Nextdoor for example, a great concept that connects members of a neighborhood and allows a message to spread easily online. However great this network is, I have heard members of my own community back home say, “I know them from Nextdoor.”

Nextdoor has replaced much in-person communication as you can message a community member through an online platform. Rather than traditional bonding and the spreading of news through in-person interaction, now we can refresh our screens to see the newest update or pressing matter in our communities without lifting a finger to knock on someone’s door and give them an update.

One of the loveliest things about a true community is that favors and acts of service never hold a dollar value. A favor is expected to be reciprocated at some point in the future. We have the mutual trust in a community member (oftentimes a loved one) that they will reciprocate a favor.

However, we have lost much of that trust with the introduction of match-that-value cash forums, such as Venmo. Venmo allows users to request payment immediately after performing a gesture for another person. Because of this, the concept of reciprocity has diminished.

This begs the question: Is Venmo more harmful than beneficial? Are we now are actively working to match that exact value to a person performing a favor for us? Is it even a favor anymore if we expect to be paid back the exact amount we covered another person for?

This does not bring community members together; it divides us even more. Yogi Berra says, “you should always go to other people’s funerals, otherwise, they won’t come to yours.” I think that his quote speaks volumes.

Networks that disguise themselves as nothing but beneficial have, in fact, diminished much of this sentiment. I, personally, want us to prevail over the hold that our phones have on us. I hope we all can recognize the essential role that reciprocity has in our relationships.

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