How to Disconnect from the World and Connect with the People You Love.
Where is your phone right now? Is it in your pocket or on the table nearby? Are you literally holding it in your hand as you’re reading this? It’s hard to believe that 2017 marks ten years since Apple first introduced the iPhone. Is there any other device that’s been this much of a game changer? There have been plenty of other phones created since then, of course, but the release of that first iPhone will go down in the history books.
As it turns out, it may also mark a moment when the way that we interact with our world changed forever too.
I’ve started to read a book called Alone Together written by Sherry Turkle. Turkle is an expert in the ways that technology – from smart phones to children’s play toys – impacts our sense of well-being and the quality of the relationships with those around us. At the core of the book is the idea that the way we use and interact with technology has an impact on our own intellectual and emotional development.
Here’s a simple example that she gives. Remember Furby? Turkle starts out by talking about toys such as these – intelligent toys that can respond to us depending on what we do. In explaining some of her research, she discusses how, when turned upside down, Furby might say something like, “Oh no, me scared!” Have you ever wondered how this impacts a child’s play? What does it do to their imaginative exploration to have a toy that respond to them? What if they were making Furby fly through the air but Furby seemed scared? Would the child feel guilty and stop? Would they feel sad that they scared their friend? Does this actually stifle imagination?
It’s fair to say that technology impacts our lives in lots of ways.
And it doesn’t stop with kids. The capabilities of the devices that we use as adults change our behavior too. We can get instant access to our business email, our personal Facebook page, or our favorite YouTube channel. It’s relatively simple to crunch numbers or create new documents on whatever device is nearby. Our levels of productivity and our levels of distractibility are through the roof.
Think about it. It’s always there. When you come to a red light, do you find yourself reflexively reaching for your phone? What happens when you’re sitting at the dinner table with your family and you get a text message alert? Some of us even share our bed with our partner and our electronics.
Do you ever get the sense that this is all too much?
Downtime is important. With the technology that we use today, it is tempting to have less and less of it. We’re never bored and we’ve come to see empty time – where there is nothing to do – as a bad thing. We try to reserve this time for the one or two vacations we take each year, but inevitably there are emails to read or respond to. In times of stress or anxiety, we can retreat to our screens and the comfort of our self-curated content. We never give ourselves an opportunity to really sit with our emotions.
Your brain is healthiest when it has time to unwind and process the day.
From your brain’s perspective, virtual reality is very different from the real thing. Connecting with a loved one via a text message is not the same as embracing them and connecting face to face. Coming home and untethering ourselves from our electronic world allows us to vent about the stresses of our day and celebrate the accomplishments. It’s incredibly helpful for us to process these things. It’s a far more healthy process than trying to match our emotions to an emoji.
There is a deep-down part of us that has evolved to need human-to-human contact. This is the contact that comforts our spirits and let’s us know that we are not alone in the world. In reality, we can have enormous lists of friends and still feel completely alone. According to neuroscientists, when we really connect in face-to-face conversation, parts of our brains literally begin to synchronize. This keeps us attached to each other. It can help keep us securely coupled together.
So how can you start to detach from your device and start to connect with the one that you love? Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Out of Arms Reach
My wife and I have both realized that we reach for our phones every single time that we are driving and come to a red light. Keep those phones out of reach while you’re commuting to work. Leave it in your purse or put it a compartment on the passenger door. When you do come to a red light, look around. Notice the world around you. See the flowers in the median. Notice how many other people are navel-gazing into their phones just waiting for the light to turn.
This also goes for meal times. Keep the phones away from the table. Not in your pocket. Not on the counter in the kitchen. Leave them in your bedroom or office on the charger. The people that you’re eating dinner with – no matter who they are – are interesting and complex people. Be curious about their day and tell them about yours. If you’re eating alone, be mindful of the food that you’re eating. Take time to slow down and relax – eat slowly. It will be good for your brain and your belly.
No Phones Before Bed
A psychiatrist named Dan Siegel recently shared a video said that when you use your phones before bed, you’re short-circuiting your sleep circuitry. Your screens are bright and when you stare at such a bright screen you’re sending your brain the message that it’s not time to go to sleep yet. An hour before you go to bed, you should be starting to wind down, relaxing, and letting the biological process of your body get you ready for a good night’s sleep. Whatever is on there…. it’ll keep ’til morning.
Don’t Argue Via Text
Some estimates say that only about 7% of the information that your brain takes in during conversation is the actual words that are said. 93% is made up things like non-verbals (facial expression, body movements) and tone of voice. There is so much more room for misunderstanding when you speak over text and when the conversation gets heated…. you’d better believe that something is going to go wrong. Texting is convenient for sharing grocery lists and changing calendar appointments but it is a counterproductive way to have most conversations. Instead of texting, make a phone call or, better yet, discuss the issue at home when you are able to take in all of the other 93%. It might seem harder but it will be so much better for your relationships in the long run.
Having the internet in our pocket is absolutely amazing. We literally have access to all of the world’s information at any time and any where. But, the flip side is that we can sometimes let all of that distract us from the people we love. It’s hard to connect when put the world between ourselves and our loved ones sitting on the other side of the couch.
So, wherever your phone is, whatever is happening on Facebook, I can guarantee you it isn’t as important or as amazing as the person across the room. Put down the phone and spend some time really making a connection.
After ten years in digital media and marketing, Desmond Smith recently graduated with a Master's in Marriage & Family Therapy from Pfeiffer University and is currently working towards licensure in the state of North Carolina. His wife, Kristy Yetman, is the owner of Yetman Counseling Services. Desmond writes about relationships and life at his blog, PartSaintAndPartSinner.com. He also helps therapists and helpers understand technology and marketing at SurfingOnTheCouch.com.