A comic strip depicted the following scenario: A couple is sitting at their dinner table at home. Both spouses are looking at their phones. One texts the other: “smethng in ur teeth.” “Thx dear” was the response. Neither husband nor wife even bothered looking up from the screen.
I witnessed a similar scene in real life while sitting in a restaurant with friends. A couple seated nearby were both holding their phones in front of their faces, speedily texting away. I kept glancing over at them, wondering if they would eventually put down their phones and talk to each other. Forty minutes passed and our meal ended, but the couple never took their eyes off their phones.
The connection we get from technology is superficial and often leaves us feeling disconnected. Thanks to the Internet, we have, to a considerable extent, become socially inept. Maintaining eye contact and focus has become more difficult. We have trouble engaging in a conversation or listening to another person without pulling out our devices.
A woman approached me after a lecture. “My son just is not social,” she said. “He is not merely constantly on the phone or iPad, it is almost as if he doesn’t know how to talk to people.”
I initially assumed this woman’s son was just somewhat asocial. But this problem has been surfacing wherever I speak.
Never before has the challenge to connect been so strong. Adults today did not grow up with parents who had cell phones to distract them. By contrast, our children experience considerably less eye contact and personal interaction with their parents because everyone is looking at his or her phone.
Studies show that when humans connect with one another a positive chemical change takes place in the brain. We are hardwired to connect. From birth we crave physical touch, eye contact, and personal communication. In fact, our brain actually interprets social disconnect the same way it interprets physical pain.
Technology connects us superficially, leaving a lingering sense of disconnect. At the same time, it is indisputably a major part of our lives. So how can we remain connected in a world of increasing technological isolation?
Never before have parents had such a test in front of them. Do we choose to constantly plug in? Or do we instead show our children what real connection looks and feels like? Here are several practical suggestions to guide us in connecting:
First, make an honest assessment. We often fail to realize just how much we use our devices. Download a tracker to note how many hours per day you do. Acknowledgment is the first step.
Next, establish your personal rules regarding screen time. We delude ourselves when we vaguely commit to reduced time on our personal devices by saying something like “I’ll use it less.” This is not concrete or even possible to quantify.
Tell your children, spouse, and other loved ones that you want to connect with them in a real way. Ask them, “What will make you feel like I’m listening to you and that you are the most important people in my world?” Follow their suggestions.
Establish a routine and rules regarding your phone. Compose a written contract/ reminder for you and your family members and sign it if necessary.
For example: 1. No bringing the phone to bed. 2. Wait until children are off to school before turning the phone on in the morning. 3. Do not use the phone while driving.
When making your specific contract ask yourself: Why do I want to use it less? Who is most affected or upset by my tech usage? When does using my phone cause the most problems? Answering these questions honestly will help you create guidelines and boundaries that are right for you.
The key to accomplishing any goal is working on one thing at a time. This increases your odds of maintaining long-term resolution and sustaining growth.
Here are some examples of small, achievable steps (I recommend choosing only one or two at a time):
* When in a meeting or giving a lecture, I would never respond to a text or pick up the phone. With family and friends, however, I find myself taking out the phone. Call an official family “meeting” where everyone is required to place tech items elsewhere.
* Do not walk around with your phone in hand. Even if we resolve not to use it during a specific time, having it in our sight is a constant temptation to “check it.”
* Make certain times of the day or parts of your home a “no phone zone.”
* Find activities that can keep you busy away from your phone. Take a walk, a bath, or meet up with a friend. Do not allow yourself to use your phone as a “go to” antidote for boredom.
* Turn off notifications or turn your phone to silent. This reduces the urge to keep checking the device.
* Buy an alarm clock. Using our phones as an alarm can cause us to use it right before bed and first thing in the morning.
* Try going a whole day without your phone.
We owe it to ourselves and to future generations to make a change, no matter how small, in the way we relate to technology. Give yourself and your children the gift of connection.
We can find true meaning by connecting in a disconnected world.