A reader writes:

Not only is constant phone-checking rude to the person you're with, it's also a pretty dangerous crutch to those of us who already have a bit of trouble interacting with others. I'm shy – not painfully so, but overly sensitive to awkward pauses and hate being in a big group. My solution? I just check my phone! There's nothing wrong with standing on your own outside a knot of happy, hyper people if you're clearly busy talking to someone else.

The problem, of course, is that when I depend too much on the phone as social shield, I don't learn anything.

I don't force myself to interact with people who freak me out. I don't think of something interesting to say to the person sitting across from me. I just draw the metaphorical curtains and ignore them.

I met one of my best friends when she sat next to me in a course a few years ago. She's one of those perky people I usually can't stand, and she just wouldn't stop smiling at me. Finally, I simply said, "I'm sorry, I can't think of anything to say to you." She burst into laughter, and that was that. If I'd possessed a cell phone at the time, I'd never have felt awkward enough to say anything.

So that's it for the phone as crutch. A couple of months ago I made a rule: no texting or email-checking if the sole purpose is to avoid other people. I'd rather cringe my way through a conversation than not have one at all.