I’ve been in a relationship the entire time I’ve owned a smartphone, so using it has always come at the risk of ignoring my significant other (and vice versa).
Whether you share most of your life with another person, take your phone out often with friends, or find yourself needing to communicate with a group of new acquaintances, here are some ways you can use your phone to engage, rather than tune out, the people around you.
1) Play a Game
No, not Angry Birds. And just because Words With Friends and Order & Chaos require other people to play, that doesn’t make them social. If you have to stare at your screen, you’re probably not paying that much attention to the person next to you.
Try downloading a single-player crossword app. Everyone won’t be able to see the clues like they would in the paper version, but that will just get them talking to you more as they ask you to read aloud each one.
The same is true of word search games or trivia. Basically go for anything that gets a group of people thinking together and shouting out guesses. I haven’t installed Teazel’s Crossword app on any of my devices, but I’ve been asked questions often enough by friends to feel like a regular player.
Part of the enjoyment of board games is that they get people talking, and with the right app, you can generate a similar experience with your phone.
2) Take Pictures
Getting people to come together and pose for a photo is inherently social. Sneaking one of them is not. Carrying pocket cameras around with us 24/7 can encourage some voyeuristic, paparazzi-like behavior, but it doesn’t have to be this way.
Encourage people to come together for a snapshot. Tell a friend you want to get a picture of them next to a landmark. And as much as I personally dislike selfies, there’s something warm about standing next to someone who wants to snap one with you.
Not everyone likes having their picture taken, regardless of how nicely you ask. That doesn’t mean you have to put your camera away. They may still love the idea of going around with you taking pictures of animals and flowers and buildings. Then you can come together and look through them together.
3) Netflix and Chill
A smartphone doesn’t provide as nice a viewing experience as a TV. Even a 10-inch tablet with substantially more screen real estate hardly compares. But if there’s one advantage these devices have, it’s getting people to huddle close together. Curl up on the sofa with someone you care about and watch a show with your arm around them. Put your hand on a friend’s shoulder as you lean in to watch a clip.
Being social isn’t just about looking someone in the eye or talking to them, it’s enhanced by being physically close.
Being comfortable with someone increases the likelihood that you will talk to them later, and it shows that you care about them even when you’re not explicitly saying so. As long as you eventually look up from the screen, that is.
4) Discover Things to Do
To a certain extent, no matter what you do, smartphones are inherently anti-social. They cause you to look away from the person you’re with, even if only for a moment (and unlike a book or magazine, they come with endless ways to distract you).
But that portable device is one of the most useful tools for discovering activities you can do with others. Whether it’s visiting a restaurant, plotting a hike, mapping out a road trip, or anticipating a day in a new city, spending some time with your phone can be the easiest way to facilitate hours and hours of great memories with someone later on.
Apps like Roadtrippers, Travelocity, TripAdvisor, and Trip It help you go from the planning stages to hitting the road. Depending on which city you end up in, an app like Citymapper can cut out the time you spend arguing over how the transit system works, so that you still like your travel companion by the time your day is up.
Okay, music may not get people talking right away, but it gets them singing (though a group of people who are passionate about their favorite artists may not want to talk about anything else). Music is a universal language, and it brings people together.
You could break out into song yourself, though that may seem out of place if you’re not in a bar or standing next to a cup half filled with change. These days, you don’t need a sound system or a boom box. You don’t need anything with headphones. You have your phone. Take it out, play your favorite album, or start streaming pretty much anything, and see if it puts a smile on the face of the person you’re with. You don’t even have to spend any money.
Don’t underestimate the power of music. A beloved song can thaw the ice between two people who would otherwise be cold towards each other.
Folks faced with a grueling day of work ahead can ease the burden with pleasant background tunes. Music can make friends out of strangers, and it can strengthen the bond between lifelong pals.
6) Put It Down
Hey, I know, but at the end of the day, this is the most reliable thing you can do with your phone to bring life out of a conversation.
A game that pulled friends together one day may have them sitting beside each other playing separately the next. Playing music is significantly less social when you have to pull out earphones.
Every time you look away from someone to do something on your phone, it sends a signal to them to stop talking and wait. And if they don’t, you may find yourself feeling lost when you try to jump back in the conversation.
Putting your phone away is the best thing you can do with the device to engage with others.