Do people ever interrupt you in the middle of conversations to answer a ringing phone or check a text notification? Has anyone ever abruptly halted speaking with you to scan for messages, without any prompt from a ring tone or vibration? Ever go to a concert or sporting event where the person in front of you watches the whole show through a phone screen (to record it)? These scenarios are common in our society, which has become increasingly plugged into technology, and not always for the best.
Technology has afforded us many advantages, such as nearly unlimited access to people, information, directions/ navigation, entertainment, services, and social outlets. However, this ease of access can also create a disconnect between living a real life and a virtual one. Many people falsely believe that they are building intimacy and relationships via Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram. However, research has shown that people may actually feel increased loneliness from extensive use of social media. How can that be when we feel more tied in than ever to other people?
The downside of virtual living is that at the end of the day, you still do not have the companionship of spending time with someone or getting the physical contact of a hug. Despite its convenience of access, social media cannot replace the satisfaction and enrichment of in-person relationships and life experiences. When we are removed or distracted from these real-time, face-to-face experiences, we feel less connected to others and the world around us, which translates to decreased satisfaction and happiness.
How do we correct for these behaviors and make ourselves more present with our loved ones? First, we can be more aware and mindful of when we are distracted, which can create opportunities to make changes. Mindfulness is the practice of being grounded in the here and now, with deliberate, non-judgmental awareness of our surroundings, feelings, and experiences. This practice alone can help improve our quality of daily life, but why stop there? We can also set limits with ourselves, such as shutting off a phone at specific times, disabling message notifications, or even leaving the phone behind when engaged in a particular activity. These steps can create more awareness of feelings, and can make us more attuned to our experiences, perceptions, and reactions. This practice can also help teach us how to tolerate uncomfortable feelings, and to acknowledge that they will eventually pass. When we are more aware of our feelings, we feel more in control, which helps to decrease stress.
Imagine if turning off a phone, even for a short period of time, could result in less stress, more satisfying interpersonal experiences, and a new perspective of your environment. If such a simple action could produce such powerful results, would you try it? I challenge you to unplug—you may be surprised with the outcome!