‘Nobody asks for directions anymore’: How phones are making us all more anti-social

In exchange for convenience, many of us are becoming more anxious, less empathetic and less able to spot social cues.

Sean Nolan

Sean Nolan

Viet Nam News


People sit at a tea stall while looking at their phones. — VNS Photo Seán Nolan

April 28, 2023

HANOI — Like many of you reading this, I can’t put my phone down for long. Most of you will be reading this on your phones. Some of you will even pick up your phone before getting to the end of this story.

If you want a shock, have a look at your daily average screen time. It’s alarming – or at least mine is.

That being said, phones are a great tool in navigating life as an expat – they can translate, suggest things to do and help stay connected with loved ones.

Recently though, I’ve been wondering how much they have affected our ‘real-life’ social interactions.

I honestly can’t remember the last time someone stopped me for directions. A few years ago, it was a regular occurrence. Now, with GPS and map apps available at the push of a button, it seems most people would rather press a few buttons than ask a stranger for help.

Of course, this is convenient, but it also means we’re missing out on opportunities to meet new people.

Many of us, myself included, also use our phones to avoid boredom or awkwardness in social situations. Sometimes, it seems easier to mindlessly scroll our feeds on social media than to strike up a conversation with a stranger.

This isn’t a phenomenon limited to expats in Việt Nam – it’s a global issue, and countless studies show a correlation between increased screen time and mental health or social skills issues.

In exchange for convenience, many of us are becoming more anxious, less empathetic and less able to spot social cues.

That is why it is important to be mindful of your phone use, despite their importance to everyday life.

Many people find social interactions challenging, but embracing this discomfort is imperative to developing social skills. It’s painful at times, but embracing the awkwardness will build you social skills.

This means attending social events, joining a group or club, or striking up a conversation with someone new. By stepping outside your comfort zone and being open to new experiences, you can create meaningful connections and enhance your overall well-being.

Living abroad can be a lonely experience, but it doesn’t have to be. By being mindful of our phone use and actively seeking out human connection, we can make the most of our time in Việt Nam – or anywhere else in the world.

So next time you’re lost, try asking for directions instead of relying on your phone – you never know how much better it might be. VNS

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