Even in WhatsApp era, eye contact matters most in relationships

With a meeting of eyes becoming an effort in these times of mobile entrapment, Munmun Ghosh explores its impact on relationships

‘Whatsapp hi Whatsapp mein ishaara ho gaya, baithe baithe jeene ka sahara ho gaya…’
‘Jeevan se bhari teri Whatsapps, majboor karein jine ke liye…’
‘Teri message, uff yun maa…’

Time these priceless melodies were rewritten thus, for who talks with aankhen these days? Who croons ‘Nigaahen milane ko ji chahta hai’? Increasingly, involuntarily, even while talking with our mouths or listening to another, we are not establishing eye contact, our eyes committed in a till-death-do-us-part earnest to the screen, be it the fascist mobile or the more liberal laptop. Reluctant to look up from our laptops even if someone enters the room or house. Even in closed public spaces like a shared Uber ride that screams ‘interact’ (minimum exchange a smile or a polite ‘Hi’ or a nod), we mostly refuse to establish eye-contact, lost in our virtual ‘mobile’ worlds, feeding virtual relationships. Predictably, the young have succumbed more completely than older people.

The situation has escalated so much that a telecom company of all companies – as it stands to benefit the most from this kind of screen addiction – rolled out a short, smartly-made video on Friendship Day, cajoling the youth to look up from their mobiles and actually connect with their friends, the person in front of them through eye-to-eye contact, rather than virtually through messages and forwards.

For as the old adage runs, eyes are the window of the soul — the chief conveyor of human emotions, the gateway to an individual. The reason why the eye is cherished as the most important organ in classical Indian dancing, reveals noted Kathak exponent Vaibhav Joshi, “Bhavs (emotions) and abhinaya (acting) are crucial in all the 8 forms of Indian classical dance. Actually dance starts at the forehead and ends at the chin. For if the emotion, be it joy, erotica, anger, etc. is not expressed by the eyes, then movements of all other body parts lose impact. So dance students are taught to use their eyes in different ways, like to look straight to manifest confidence or look down to express shyness.”

Eye being central to emotions, a person-to-person connection attains completion, meaning, and the power to nourish deeply – with eye contact. Eyes reveal the world of truth about us in a flash even as our mind is groping for right words to utter. And while a WhatsApp-based exchange yields a partial understanding about a person, depending on what and how much the WhatsApp-er chooses to reveal, eyes give away the essential truth about a person that reels of messages cannot convey. For eyes don’t lie. You can spawn falsehoods on screen, but the eye cannot screen truths. Without eye contact, an interaction remains superficial, incomplete, and the resultant understanding shallow. Unfortunately, more and more people are choosing to relate in this way. Gadgets are robbing people of the power and warmth of eye contact.

Says veteran homeopathic physician Dr C B Jain, “Establishing eye contact means I am ready to receive you and so you can express yourself. All who are too distracted with mobiles for eye contact become unavailable to us, leading to huge gaps in communication. We speak a lot with our eyes, like commuters signal space to one another to pass by, through eye-contact. These days, often that’s not happening because of absorption in mobiles, which is affecting social skills, with people getting cut off from their surroundings.” Corroborating the doctor’s stand, young businessman Saurabh Singhee confesses how recently while travelling in a metro, he did not realise that a pregnant woman was standing in front of him, as he was seated, busy messaging away. “It’s only after two stations that I looked up and hastily gave her space. I felt bad about it.”

Medically too, the eyes convey a lot about a patient’s state to a doctor. “While a patient can joke about his state, his eyes will tell me the intensity of his pain or problem,” avers Dr. Jain. “In the medical condition called autism, children are unable to maintain eye-contact, which speaks a lot about the brain. Generally, avoiding eye contact indicates lack of confidence or a low life condition as a happy person will always look you in the eye.” Affirming his posit, young corporate executive Geraldine D Souza reveals her experience of bosses “who look at the ground while speaking to you. So different from the confidence they exude in their mails. People are engaging so much in screen conversations, which allow them to project what they are not also, that they cannot interact easily in person. I see it’s a struggle for some of my colleagues to even make a presentation.”

Corporate executive Roosha Sen Gupta observes that she is interacting more through WhatsApp with friends and colleagues than face-to-face, as everybody prefers it that way. While WhatsApping is now the established norm among friends, in families its usage still differs. Roosha maintains, “In our family space, we still interact in the traditional way.” But Saurabh regrets, “We hardly have family conversations any longer and even then it’s about content sent through mobiles. It’s a loss. We do not even establish eye contact with nature. People are so busy clicking selfies wherever they go to post on Facebook, that they do not enjoy the actual contact with nature.”

While technology is promoting awareness and bonding in myriad ways like WhatsApp groups drawing together families splintered by globalisation, let’s not lose out on the most basic way of understanding our fellow beings – by establishing eye contact with them – in our torrid engagement with tech-powered excitements. For the truth remains as that old song says, “Teri aankhon ke siway duniya mein rakha kya hai.”

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