Upon finding myself settled into a coffee shop corner table, I take a second to look out the window and at the people around me. I have been living in the small city of Nässjö, Sweden since the middle of December, halfway around the world from my home in the United States. During this time I have noticed differences between the two cultures.
So what makes the two cultures so different?
A group of teenage girls come into the coffee shop and sit at a nearby table. They each have a slice of matcha cake in front of them. I immediately tried to imagine this scenario happening in the U.S. I'm almost certain there would be an iPhone whipped out to snap a pic of their stunning green cake. Even I was guilty of taking a picture of my perfectly poured cappuccino, about twenty minutes before their arrival.
But alas, no phone appeared. The girls enjoyed their matcha cake photo shoot free.
In the U.S., the habit of picking up a phone has become so common that we don't even think twice about it. Here in Sweden, I'm finding that not to be the case. Yes, iPhones obviously exist, but there presence isn't noticed in social settings.
I have been here for almost seven weeks now and have come to enjoy this lack of cellular connection when doing simple things such as walking to the grocery store, sitting in a restaurant, and watching my fiancé’s basketball games.
Just a couple days ago, I had to wait two hours in a gymnasium for a basketball game to start. I didn't have wifi or anyone to talk to, because I obviously don't speak Swedish. Instead of being able to scroll through my phone, I sat quietly alone with my thoughts, observed what was going on around me.
During this time of self reflection I found myself asking…are we scared to disconnect? Have we become too comfortable with the security our phones provide us? Have we lost touch with the ability to sit still and remain quiet, without having to rely on a phone to keep us occupied?
For me, these technology-free moments have been refreshing.
I have come to appreciate the art of conversation. True conversation. Conversation without quickly glancing down to see if you got a text. Conversation where two people are engaged and are actually listening and providing genuine responses. Conversation where eye contact is present and maintained.
This is the type of conversation that I have observed here in Sweden. Even when talking to people to the first time, they are so engaged with what I am saying that I have no choice other than to fully engage back.
This experience has inspired me to create more face to face moments. Wether those are shared in coffee shops, the car, or waiting for a meal. I want to challenge myself to be present and engage with the people around me.
So here's to enjoying meaningful conversation, drinking good coffee, smiling at the stranger next to you, and connecting to the people beside you. Let’s put our phones down and re-connect with the life in front of us.