Can you conduct an intervention on yourself – a la Miranda July‘s A Handy Tip For The Easily Distracted? If so, I think it is about time that I sit myself down and have a serious conversation about my slight addiction to technology and all that it brings with it – i.e. social media, the rabbit hole of online articles and endless pins. So.Many.Pins. Over the last few months I have been collecting articles about the impact that social media and technology have on us as human beings. It seems to me lately that there are an influx of people writing and talking about this subject. I’m not sure if this is indeed true or if I am just more self-aware of my own addiction and therefore am noticing what others have to say about it. Either way, I do believe it is something that we all need to pay attention to, because the more we are connected to a piece of technology, the less likely we are to be completely present and interacting with life with our whole being.
Jonathan Harris, an artist who makes online projects that reimagine how we relate to machines and each other, made the point in his Creative Mornings talk, Different Ways of Looking, that “The more you document your own life, the more you check in, you tweet, the more you post photos of what you did last night, the more you do all of this stuff, or even in my case, the more you listen for little lines of dialogue that can make their way into stories, the more you photograph moments, in a way, the more you start to step out of those moments, and if you do that too much, you become a spectator to your own life.” Are we all just becoming spectators in our own lives? Turning our lives into brands that we can sell – always thinking about how we can best market ourselves so that our lives seem so very interesting and something that someone else would want to buy? Are we turning ourselves into products, devoid of real emotion and connection? Are our lives just a series of Instagramable moments that connect us more to a square sized picture then an actual person?
I became acutely aware of my addiction to technology when I forgot my phone charger at my parents’ house and had to go without a phone for 24 hours (until I could make my way to the Apple store to buy a replacement). Within those 24 hours, I realized how many times I reach for my phone throughout the day, because reaching for something and not having it there makes you see how much this action has become a habit. University of California neuroscientist Loren Frank conducted a study that found, “smartphone users check their phones 34 times a day, with each check lasting less than 30 seconds and occurring within 10 minutes of each other.”
Once I became aware of how much I turn to my phone throughout the day, I was a bit embarrassed and disgusted with myself. I was the person who didn’t get a cell phone until 2001 and swore that I would never be that person who was walking down the street talking on it. Well, clearly I caved and then some. Once I realized how much I lean on my phone throughout the day, I also recognized that there was a real sense of freedom not having a phone attached to me. There was something refreshing about not being connected at all times. In some strange way it seemed to open the day up to possibilities.
Shortly after this experience the above video, I Forgot My Phone, was trending on social media (the irony is not lost on me), and many were writing about how it resonated with them. So, if social media is correct, others are also feeling and seeing how a phone or tablet can exist as a barrier that disconnects us from the moment. When we are more concerned about capturing the moment then being in it, we are creating an obstruction that does not allow us to feel it in the fullest. I believe that it is truly feeling a moment that sparks our creativity, opens us up to possibility and forces us to engage with our surroundings. A lot of growth can come out of feeling uncomfortable or being bored. Sometimes it is our boredom that lights a fire under us to get up and create – or more simply, just feel. As Louis C.K. Lewis pointed out in his interview with Conan, “you need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That’s what the phones are taking away, is the ability to just sit there. That’s being a person…Just be sad…Sadness is poetic. You’re lucky to live sad moments…when you let yourself feel sad, your body has antibodies, it has happiness that comes rushing in to meet the sadness. …The thing is, because we don’t want that first bit of sad, we push it away with a little phone…You never feel completely sad or completely happy, you just feel kinda satisfied with your product.”
The thing is, I did a lot of my growing-up before cell phones were a common accessory. I am eternally grateful for the fact that I did not know one person in college that had a cell phone. We had to remember each other’s four digit extensions and we had to make plans in advance to meet each other at a party or the library. No cell phones meant increased chances of just running into each other, which created amazing butterflies when it was the guy you had a crush on or moments of relief when it postponed studying a little longer. There was no Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest or Instagram – and if there had been, this procrastinator might still be trying to graduate. I was in my early thirties when I purchased my first smart phone – after pleading from my friends because my flip phone could only hold 50 texts, meaning that I quite often never got theirs. That means that I have created this addiction in just three years. So, what does that mean for our young children who don’t know anything different?! If they never experience being “disconnected,” then when are they having the moments of being bored, uncomfortable, alone and independent? A study by Public Health England found that young people who spent less than one hour a day playing computer games were almost three times more likely to say they enjoyed good wellbeing as those who played four hours or more.
Do not be mistaken – I am not proclaiming that technology and social media = all things evil. I do believe that there are positive things that can come from the technological advances that have been made in this world. I am advocating, though, for being conscious of how and when we are using our mobile devices and all that come along with them. Starting first with me. Some of the major offenses I have noticed in my own life include using technology to:
- Apologize for tardiness. I have a tendency to be late. It is probably one of my most deplorable traits. Just ask any friend or relative. I use my cell phone to send a quick text to excuse this lateness. It doesn’t excuse it. I just need to be on time more.
- Avoid downtime. On a subway commute I will pull out my phone to pass the time. That might be checking email or playing 76 games of solitaire. Instead I would like to pull out a book – an actual book – and use the time to read. In my efforts to do this, I had a gentleman sit down next to me on the train and ask me what I was reading. See – human interaction!
- Avoid being alone. Using my phone as I wait at a restaurant or bar for someone to arrive. It can be awkward, so I fill the time (which usually isn’t more then 15 minutes) by doing something mundane on my device. Perhaps instead I wait and embrace the awkward moment – opening myself up to someone approaching me, a funny interaction or a surprise encounter.
- Compensate for poor time management. Now that we can just check email on the run, I will use my phone to read and respond to emails. In reflection, this is due to not managing the rest of my time efficiently. Instead, I should designate a chunk of time in my day to answer emails – and keep my phone down the rest of the time.
- Keep in touch with friends. Using social media to feel connected to friends is superficial. Facebook isn’t accurate and only informs us of the small highlights with no real depth. Facebook is the Cliff Notes to people’s lives. Pick up the phone, write an actual letter and make more face-to-face connections. The research shows that Facebook can actually leave you feeling sadder and less satisfied, so why subject yourself to that? Direct interactions with other human beings > Facebook.
- Keep track of the time and when to wake up. I use my phone as both a watch and an alarm clock. So, when I take my dog for a walk, I take my phone so I’m aware of the time. I need to buy a watch and an actual alarm clock. Plugging my phone in away from my bed would stop my habit of checking my phone the first thing in the morning and last thing at night. And taking opportunities to leave my phone at home will help me break the habit of just picking it up to look at recent activity instead of being in the moment.
So, how can we get over our ‘nomophobia’ – the fear of losing signal, running out of battery or losing sight of your phone? (Which, apparently 54% of us are plagued with). Here are some of my favorite suggestions:
- Just call someone already.
- Perfect the art of weekend rest.
- Shun all technology made after 1986.
- Go on a month long social media fast.
What do you do to disconnect and make sure that you are aware of where you are placing your attention? Recommendations welcomed in this self created intervention.
*Image via Pinterest