Our eyes are special. They reveal the soul, provide a window for our thoughts to climb out. Whether or not you actually believe in the soul, our eyes are definitely designed for social interaction. They let us see what’s going on in the minds of others.
It’s why we’re the only primates with whites in our eyes. By making the iris and pupil stand out, this unique adaptation lets us better see where someone is looking and we are able to make a good guess at their thoughts and feelings. Are they terrified, friendly or shady? Are they pleased to see me, or is there a bloody great bear galloping up behind me?
Why am I thinking about this? Because eyes are disappearing.
When I work at the local stadium, the young folk on the tills spend the whole transaction staring intently at the screens on the cash registers, often failing to notice that I am holding out cash until the transaction icon doesn’t resolve in front of them.
It’s the same at my local café. The friendly smiles, eye contact and brief chats have been replaced by eyes darting around a screen while I repeat my order as the device has commanded all of their attention.
I sound like a fuddy-duddy. But I am not. I love the promise of technology. But customer service is not just about listening to words, clicking a mouse and tapping apps. It is about human contact with a stranger, and it appears that human interaction is being screened out of society.
This can only cause problems. Social isolation, anxiety and depression have all been directly linked to the allure of the glowing interface.
The more you stare at a screen in preference to interacting with human faces, the worse you will feel. People in societies across the world increasingly prefer the safe, undemanding routines of swiping and clicking over trying to fathom the murky cues of human interaction.
It just seems so much easier to deal with a device than a person. Because with real people you don’t just have to interpret the mystery of eyes, you have to read body posture, vocal tone, subtext and gestures. Human interaction seems so demanding when compared to a click.
It’s why some people get addicted to Tinder but struggle going beyond a first or second date.
People are tricky. But that preference for comfort and ease comes with a cost.
Our bodies are built for the stress of uncertainty.
An astronaut who spends too much time in space risks breaking bones when they return to Earth, as the ever-changing stress we feel fighting gravity is essential to maintaining growth and strength.
Likewise, our bodies and minds.
If we don’t use it, we lose it. The negotiation and interplay, with stressors and uncertainty, helps us grow and stay healthy.
We don’t need to lose the devices, but we shouldn’t use them to screen out human interaction.
We are social creatures, made by our gift for social interaction.
We must keep that fact firmly in sight.