“E” is for Eye Contact and Social Media

Welcome to my 2016 A to Z series on how to establish a meaningful minimum for social media as part of a balanced life. Over the next 26 days, I’ll take a quick look at  some of the pluses and minuses of social media and how to adapt it to your own needs and plans.

I just spent twenty-four hours with my youngest kid touring the UCLA campus on an admitted students’ tour.

Fresh from studying how social media impacts relationships, I wanted to make sure that the time we spent together on this briefest of tours was a time of connection, so I decided not to check my phone unless I needed to know the time or to take a call.

It seems the older he gets, the more answers he finds on his own, the more I need to support with thoughtfulness and respect the man he is becoming. Without guiding or directing his observations of the campus, I wanted to observe him, listen to him, and validate by eye contact that he was getting what he needed from the visit.

When we pulled back into our driveway today, he thanked me for a great trip. Sure, he got some treats and some UCLA swag, but more than that, we connected over what he was doing without ever speaking of the significance of it. At times, I would just look in his eyes and smile, the way I had done since he was a newborn.

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Sadly, eye contact, that most intimate of gestures, is on a decline due to the use of hand held devices and FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) on social media. Studies show a loss of this necessary human need among people in younger age groups. It is not uncommon for people to answer the phone in the midst of conversations or check social media while dining out with others.

I wonder about this and who would get the blame. We can’t blame them. Who put those first screens and devices in their hands? Who paid for those first data plans?

My Dad used to say of his mother (an intelligent woman who didn’t receive more than a fifth grade education in Italy) that she had a way of making people feel like they were enormously important. When I asked him what she did, he said she really looked and listened and would stop whatever she was doing just to listen to and look at whoever she was speaking to.

Oddly enough, eye contact and behavior similar to my grandmother’s is an element of charisma called presence. A powerful group of behaviors which make people feel seen and valued, it is one of the easiest ways to truly connect.

In adult conversations, people make eye contact somewhere between 30-60% of the time when the ideal level of eye contact is 60-70% of a conversation.  These gazes, metered out in small doses of 7 to 10 seconds for one-on-one meetings, and 3 to 5 seconds for group meetings, create a feeling of engagement. (SOURCE: WSJ)  Eye contact longer then 10 seconds tends to come off as aggressive or creepy, though the amount of eye contact deemed appropriate also varies by culture.

Feeling lonely? Consider less screen time and more in-person face time. Could be a dose of eye contact is what you need.

To visit other blogs in the A to Z Challenge, go here:

I would love to know what you think about this trend. Does it seem to you like social media and handheld devices have changed how often people look you in the eye? 

18 thoughts on ““E” is for Eye Contact and Social Media

  1. I love how you intentionally chose to connect with your son during the campus tour. I often catch myself having conversations with my children while my eyes are otherwise engaged on my phone or computer. I have to remind myself to stop and look at them, to let them know that they matter, that what they have to say in that moment is more important than what I am reading. It is our fault that young people act the way we do; we have modeled it for them, and I, for one, am ashamed of myself for it. Thank you for posting this.

    1. Aimee, having made the mistake of looking at the computer and not looking in their eyes, I am trying to avoid shame and walk the walk of compassion. I’ve gone to my kids and told them I’m sorry for when I was absent, but nothing speaks louder than actions. Your kids are young and you’re such a great mom and it’s not too late to redefine. We have to help each other and I hope my piece didn’t make you feel shame, one mom to another. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  2. Bridger and I has a great day during his college tour, too. Ih, Tonia, I want to be your grandmother when I grow up. I think I am ready to grow up now.

    1. Denise, we should pledge to do this together and make it part of one of our “sororities”–can you imagine the laughs and fun? As I think of it though, I think of you as present and focused. We just need to help each other remember who we want to be. Thanks for reading and commenting. UCLA was great.

  3. Oh, man! Eye contact and communication! I could write a whole post about eye contact issues in the classroom! But yes, what a fascinating concept–we feel as though we “see” each other so well through social media–and we do, in a sense…except that
    Then we don’t. So much here to think about. I loved the stats about normal eye contact frequency. Need to go read that source.

    1. It is amazing, especially, when you think of how lonely people are. I’m trying to be more mindful without slipping over into the “creepy” zone. Thanks for reading and such.

  4. I have a writing friend who is in great demand when she teaches. By necessity, she must divide her time among her students in fifteen minute increments. She makes sure however, that she is completely focused on that student for those fifteen minutes, and I greatly admire how hoverers are seldom allowed to interrupt them. She is so careful to connect intentionally, as you have done. It’s been one of my most important life lessons.

  5. I have always had issues with eye contact. Some if it is just my introverted self just wanting to curl up and hide, but mostly, my eye contact issues center on the vulnerability that accompanies being seen. It’s a frightening place to be, and one I’m trying to get used to.

    1. I hear ya’. I actually learned better eye contact from my newborn (now grown up) who seemed to crave it. Looking in the eyes of an innocent child/person is a great place to start allowing you to experience that your vulnerability does not immediately place you in the path of harm. I have to work at it on a regular basis and have just decided to own it with others when it is an issue. I figure we’re all struggling to be human. Thanks for reading and commenting. Maybe, we need to Skype and practice.

  6. So much truth here. I feel like eye contact is what connects you to another. So important, but as you so aptly point out, can easily be lost when people are instead focused on social media. I am further reminded of this, as my lovely hairy child, looks up at me with dark brown expressive eyes. Enough said.

      1. Really?? Oh, man. I wonder if eye contact with cats does the same thing. Hmm…off to experiment. If you hear great shrieks, please come investigate. Bring neosporin.

      2. No, it does NOT work with cat. Eye contact with cats results in a release of pent up feelings of inadequacy and insignificance. Sending Neosporin. Thanks for commenting.

  7. My mother always says the key to being a good listener is not interrupting to tell your own story when the topic of conversation triggers a thought. Easier said than done, but it’s something I am very aware of when talking with others.

  8. “….making people feel like they were enormously important.”

    What a wonderful compliment and something we should all try to do. Eye contact is crucial to helping someone know you are ‘with them.’ Thank you for the reminder.

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