Opinion: How I learned to socialize better from my mini Aussie doodle dog

We need to get off our armchairs, log out of our apps, and commit to being humans

I took my mini Aussie doodle to the dog park to socialize with other dogs. While he “connected” with other dogs through long sniffs and ball chases, I did the inverse. I found an empty corner, started a podcast, and avoided any unnecessary human interaction.

My father and others will undoubtedly roll their eyes and say, “Classic Millennial,” before returning to scrolling through whatever app they’re using — intentionally or unintentionally — to avoid human interaction.

I wish this were a “Millennial” thing. It isn’t. Generation Zers spend up to four hours per day on their phones. Before Boomers can celebrate their superiority, they must first look in the mirror…which may be difficult given that they, too, are distracted by screens. Boomers spend an hour per day on social media and consume more daytime television than anyone else.

The United States is experiencing a “Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation,” according to the Surgeon General.

And it’s entirely our fault.

We must get out of our chairs, close our apps, and commit to being human. It’s a simple plan that won’t happen unless we commit to being less lonely.

Step one: prohibit the use of screens anywhere your great-great-grandparent might have gone to see friends. Bar? There are no screens. There are no screens in the cafe. Is there a dog park? You guessed it (yes, I know dog parks were not popular in the 1920s, but let’s ignore that for the time being). This rule has already been implemented by some forward-thinking, Luddite institutions (pun intended).

Step two is to put on a nametag. You’re giggling. Good. It’s silly, but it’s simple. If you don’t want to reveal your real name, that’s fine. Choose any name to make it easier for you and others to start a conversation.

Step three is to organize a “Screen Hour” and inform your friends about it. If your friends know that you only check your phone from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. every day, they will try to limit their texts to that time. Your chances of making a friend will skyrocket in the remaining 23 hours of screen-free humanity.

Step four: talk about the weather — that is, avoid discussing politics. Some people who, like me, want to revitalize our civic community would disagree with me and advocate for more discussion about elections, candidates, and issues. However, particularly in the early stages of a friendship, a political remark that rubs the wrong way has the potential to halt any progress toward “friend” status.

Step 5: Say the F word. Don’t be afraid to express your desire for a “F”riend. It can be intimidating to admit that you want to make new friends. As someone who has lived in three states in three years, repetition has helped me overcome that fear. I wish I had told that guy with the bulldog at the dog park that I could use a friend — we could have walked our dogs to a coffee shop. That opportunity has passed, but I’m determined not to pass up the next one.

To quote my grandmother, you may believe that each of these steps is a load of nonsense. That’s all right. My intention is not for you to take Frazier’s Five Steps to Friendship. My goal is much more modest: simply put your screen down when you see a human; friendships will follow. And those friendships could be the foundation for a lot of other important progress, such as stronger communities. But I’ll save my two cents on that subject for another day.

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