It is a typical day for you sitting in front of your laptop with your cell phone to the side. Staring at the screen you refresh emails every few minutes while also glancing at your phone making sure you didn’t miss any incoming texts or calls (secretly hoping there is one waiting for you). When you finally hear the sound of “ding” you feel a rush of excitement to see who has texted you. Once the emails stop coming, texts cease, and no phone calls, you experience a sense of withdrawal.
Don’t get me wrong, I love technology. My husband has always worked in software so our household is very tech friendly. But there comes a point where being too plugged in makes your brain check out. We have become so absorbed by our devices that having notification dry spells renders us lonely and disconnected. We are not only hurting ourselves, but our relationships as well.
Recently I saw the comedian Louis CK on a talk show sharing a story about how he gave his cell phone to his daughter and only she has the password. When he wants to use it, he must ask her for permission. He realized that before he gave up his addiction to texting, anytime he was in the middle of a conversation with his daughter he would get distracted by an incoming text and look away from his daughter and down at his phone. His observation was that although kids are resilient, he knew his daughter died inside every time he did this. I am sure he is not alone, and this story resonates with many of you.
What message are we sending to our children and anyone else who stands before us when we are glancing down at our phones and not being 100% present?
I grew up when having a word processor was the technology of the day. In order to have use of a computer you went to the computer lab, and cell phones were not even widely available until I graduated from college in 1993. My generation was the first to begin embracing these incredible communication devices that now can do almost anything. But with these amazing advancements come some drawbacks.
I walked into a restaurant a few months ago, and saw a table full of young people sitting together. Every single one of them was on their phones looking down the entire time. Not one of them engaging in any form of conversation. It was a bit shocking to witness, but is the sign of our times. The next time you are out just glance around the room, and it will shock you to see how many people are on their devices.
Rather than being present in every moment of our lives, we are creating moments of distraction and disruption. Using Louis CK’s point about disengaging in conversation with his daughter to look down at his phone, every time we look away- when we are supposed to be bonding with the person in front of us- we are actually communicating to them that we are not fully invested in what they are sharing. Then, in turn, it subconsciously tells the other person to keep conversation superficial because you are not interested. It is so subtle, us looking down at our phones, but the psychological scars are not.
So how can you form new habits of unplugging and begin connecting more in your life? Here are some simple ways to start creating technology boundaries into your life:
1. Ban technology at all meals
Whether you are at home with the family or out with a friend do not bring your phone to the table. Make it a top priority that for the hour you are together you are completely engaged with the conversation and are giving your full attention to anyone who is eating with you. It is documented that meal time is one of the most important bonding times where sharing happens and community is built. Bringing your phone to the table is a distraction that can easily be avoided by just putting it in your purse or pocket.
2. Dedicate a few days in the summer to step away
We live in high alert most of the time, so dedicating a few days in the summer when things naturally slow down, allows us the chance to step away from being attached to our devices. Call it a three-day summer technology detox, and give your brain some time off. Try to get to a point where you don’t even care if you left your phone at home and you will be out all day. You should not care if someone is trying to reach you, and know that you will get the message at another time.
3. Turn your phone to silent
When people turn their phones off or to silent anxiety sets in because they are afraid of missing something. We are exhibiting fight or flight symptoms when we stay attached to the “dings” on our phone secretly hoping someone needs us, and then retreating waiting for the next adrenaline rush.
If you feel you are going to be missing something by not having your phone in your hand with the ability to check it every five minutes, begin shifting your mindset instead to setting an intention to be fully present with whatever is happening in the moment. Unplugging to plug-in is about finding balance in all things, and being attentive to what is right in front of you.
When you unplug from the constant pull and need to be connected, you are actually really plugging into what matters–connecting to yourself and to those you love. You can still enjoy the wonderful things technology adds to our lives, but without feeling it is consuming your life.