“I think I’ve had enough. We need a break.” I looked at my iPhone this morning and finally said it.
I know, I know, if you hear the words “screen time” used to unfairly demonize devices once more, you’ll willfully Facebook-Snapchat-Tweet your way to social bliss just to prove the haters wrong. But hang with me.
Every time I hear the evidence for less device use or realize how much I allow my phone to steal valuable time and attention, I think “SO true! We ARE on our phones too much!”. Then I turn around and pick up my phone. I can’t help myself. Something fun/important/life-changing might be there!
Today is the day I accept that while we may not need to break up entirely, we need some new boundaries. Like many breakups, I know it’s me. It’s not the phone. I am the problem.
Our devices and the networks that enable them have, on one hand, made us more connected than ever. This morning I asked a question and someone on the other side of the world answered it in 4 minutes. I travel a lot and keep in touch with friends and family all over the country whenever I want. It still amazes me. And yet.
When was the last time you sat at a restaurant with a friend and they put the phone on the table? Happens all the time, right. I am often “that friend”. Eventually the phone buzzes. It’s the moment of truth. Who will they pick? You or the buzz? If they pick you, you’re both still distracted. If they pick the buzz, let’s be honest, you feel weird.
If a friend called and said “Hey, what’s going on tonight? Want to come sit at a restaurant and stare awkwardly at me while I look at my phone?” you’d probably say no. Yet we see it everywhere. The same tool that gives us unlimited opportunity for connection also enables us to disengage with the person across the table.
Who are the people in your life who make you feel the most loved and cared for? I recently asked this question and the answer came down to one trait: PRESENCE. The people who make me feel valued are the ones who give the gift of time and attention. I want to be one of these people.
While we were made for connection, what we crave most is intimacy. We confuse the “like” buttons of the former with the vulnerability of the latter. We crave a good meal and conversation with friends, but forfeit it for candy from a vending machine at the push of a button. In a world where the illusion of connectedness is at our fingertips, this is where it gets dangerous.
What does the science say?
I could bore you with the research because I’m a brain science nerd. I could tell you that….
- Downtime (i.e. boredom) is when memories are recorded and our brains solve problems. When we keep busy with digital input, we forfeit the downtime that allows us to learn, store information and create new ideas.
- No matter how much we think we can multitask, we can’t. Our brains handle one stream of information at a time.
- Boredom is when we process experiences and turn them into memories. Without downtime, we prevent this from happening.
- Our ability to focus is undermined by random bursts of information. These bursts provide excitement – a dopamine squirt in our brains – that can be addictive. ( á la my “Something fun/exciting/life-changing might be there!” behavior.)
- While it’s easy to think of our relationship to devices as typical addiction, Matt Richtel writes “researchers compare the lure of digital stimulation less to that of drugs and alcohol than to food and sex, which are essential but counterproductive in excess.” Grechin Rubin may have said it best: “Technology is a good servant, but a bad master.”
I could tell you all this, but does it matter? Frankly, it matters to me, but only a little. Yes, I’m worried that my phone is creating new neural pathways, making me increasingly unable to rest. I’m worried that I’m not bored enough and how that affects my creativity.
All of these things are notable, but what I fear most is that we’re slowly losing our sense of compassion and true connection because we’re not practicing. When I’m busy looking for the next burst of information, I’m not becoming a person who tells people that THEY matter more than anything.
The mind is full, but lacks clarity
I can bury myself in ingesting new information. Podcasts, emails, blogs, it never ends. I like to feel “caught up”. I tell myself the phone helps me do this, but the truth is, it’s a gateway to overload.
The key to retaining information is clarity and one of the biggest foes of clarity is URGENCY. This is where constant connectedness is counterproductive. Do you keep your phone on because someone might need you? There might be an emergency? Be honest. When’s the last time there was an emergency and you were the only person on the planet capable of handling it? When we tell ourselves this, we become slaves to the tyranny of the urgent at the expense of the important.
I know that most emergencies aren’t, so why else do I constantly check in? Self-importance. That’s the truth. On one hand, I claim I don’t want to be bothered. So much email! Why won’t people stop bothering me?! When honestly, it bothers me if I’m not bothered. If too much time goes by without texts or emails, I feel less important. I want to be needed and liked and my phone reminds me that I am.
So how will I start to pay more attention to my soul and to people and less to my phone?
For one month, beginning today, I will do the following. Join me?
- Remove email and web browsing. Delete the accounts, turn them off, whatever needs to be done so they’re not an option. If there’s no ice cream in the freezer, I don’t eat ice cream. Make it impossible to check email or browse the web without purposefully sitting down at the computer.
- No time wasters. This is different for all of us, so if you want to join in, you’ll have to be honest about where you mindlessly waste time. Facebook? Instagram? I’m deleting any time wasters.
- No notifications. I already do this and I promise you, it’s a game changer. No more dings or popups. I don’t need to know someone “liked” me on the Internet.
- Leave it at home. At least once a day, leave it behind. Go on a walk. Sit outside. Get out of the house and don’t take it with you. I also plan to leave it behind when I go out with friends or family.
What will I do without it?
I plan to carry a book and read a page whenever I feel the need to check something. Or maybe I’ll just look up more. Smile at people at the park or at the grocery store. I’ll have coffee, meals, and drinks with friends without feeling the stress of the buzz.
I may lose my mind at first, but what I hope to gain is a new rhythm.
Want to join in? Leave your questions and ideas in the comments section.
If you’re on twitter, Tag #1monthdigitalbreakup.
An update on this post can be found here.