The average user checks his smartphone for messages about every six and a half minutes. The constant blinking and beeping is designed to get our attention. And since most of the alerts are some form of connection with other people, we find it highly addictive.
As humans, we have been designed to connect. Virtual connections are ghost relationships though. We are getting addicted to psuedo connections in place of real connections. There is evidence to suggest it is literally rewiring our brains so we are finding it increasingly difficult to connect relationally in the real world.
The inability to connect relationally in the real world is costing us. It is costing us in our health, it is costing in happiness, and it is costing us our ability to focus, thereby costing us in productivity.
And according to a study by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, our obsession with our lighted screens is inhibiting the production of melatonin in our bodies, and messing up our body’s sleep cycles.
It is not a luxury to disconnect from our technology, it is a necessity. We need it for our sanity, and for the love of life. Kimberly Brooks from HuffPost says that she looks forward to the day when checking your phone when having dinner with a friend “is looked upon as repugnant as picking ones’ nose or scratching ones’ balls, or chain-smoking in public.” I lean towards agreeing with her.
I once flew into another country and a friend called me a few weeks before I arrived asking if he could schedule some time to have dinner with me. So I said sure. I mean he is my friend and I wasn’t in his city often. When we got to the restaurant he kept texting and laughing at the texts he received so often that it annoyed me enough to ask him to hand over his phone.
When you finally get the chance to sit down with someone you have missed and they are not there in the moment, it can get really dissappointing. Now I am sure that I am sometimes a culprit too, and somebody should have asked me for my phone. Being present and in the moment is really important in relationships.
Here are five practical suggestions to help us as a culture to disconnect from our smartphones and actually forge some real civilization in the real world.
1. Play Phone-Stacking with your friends when you go out to eat. This might be a kinder way than asking them to hand over their phone. Here is how it works. When you go to a restaurant, you stack all your phones in one place. The first person to pick up his phone before the check comes has to pay for everyone’s meal. Yes, I allow you to challenge me to a game of Phone-Stacking any time.
2.Create Phone-Free-Timezones in your house. Phone-Stacking may not work when you are the parent and it is dinner at home. If you wish for your kids to engage with you, engage with them first. I think family dinnertime should be Phone-Free-Timezones everywhere. And everybody gets to pick a way to make the offender pay for his crime. For example, Mom may have to take the kids to McDonalds if she breaks the rules. Or Dad may have to spend ten minutes phone-free story reading time to kids for every minute spent on the phone during Phone-Free-Timezone.
3. Give your kids some rights over your phone use. Sometimes it is just as much parents as kids that are the culprits in a world where we don’t take the time to connect. Parents, sometimes you need to give your kids permission to confiscate your phones as much as you sometimes need to confiscate their phones. It is called learning mutual respect.
4. Leave your phones in another room overnight. Don’t charge your phone beside your bed. Studies prove that some of the benefits are stolen from you during the night when there are alerts beeping on your phone, even when you are unaware of the messages coming in. It messes with your sleep cycle. And tired people make grumpy friends.
5. Remember that your smartphone serves you. Don’t let it become a master. It is a tool. Train your work colleagues that there are times when they will be ignored. The cost in productivity by harried workers is steadily increasing. More and more companies are realizing the cost and are encouraging their workers to unplug. If your workplace is still a dinosaur in this regard, be an agent of change.
Technology is still new, and as a human species we are still learning how to master it. It still needs some taming. But the longer we have it, the more we are learning how it can benefit us as a tool, and also how we must be intentional in managing it. We must master it, or it will enslave us.