As I was standing in line to get my free UH red t-shirt, searching for UH’s Facebook page to show the media staff my “Like”, I overheard the girl and guy behind me talking about their phones. Their conversation went something like this . . . Girl: “I check my phone like every 2 seconds” Boy: “Yeah, its hard to do in Biology, but I check it all the time too.” Girl: “Yeah, that’s the only class I can’t be on my phone constantly” . . . I smiled because this conversation, in the middle of the day, reflected what so many of us have struggled with in our own lives.
I avoided getting a smart phone for nearly 2 years while in the PhD program. Eventually, I succumbed to the convenience of having immediate access to my emails. Good decision? Well, mostly. But, there have definitely been bouts of obsessive email (5 accounts), Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, etc. checking. And I really don’t have that much free time on my hands. I have a dissertation in progress, I have 2 jobs, I have manuscripts to finish – there are plenty of deadlines. Sure, it’s great to immediately catch the incoming email request or take a mindless break looking at pictures and posts, but it can also be a terrible, avoidant habit. Programs like SelfControl have been wonderful for helping me regain discipline (on my computer) and helped me to commit to just leaving my phone alone. Technology can be SO addicting. Really, the feedback, the “likes”, the new posts are intriguing, but they aren’t emergencies. They surely aren’t going to help me reach any of my deadlines.
The interesting thing about struggling to shut off technology is how observant it can make you of your habits and everyone else’s. It is hard to drive and not pick up your phone when you get a text. It is hard to just walk to the parking lot or stand silently in the elevator without feeling the need to check something. It is hard to focus on the people you are having dinner with when the phone lights up at the table. It is hard to not be distracted by other people picking up their phones every five minutes while you are at a social event, family party, or small dinner.
You have probably experienced something similar. Maybe you too were sitting at a dinner table, exchanging stories about life, eating dinner, and then all of a sudden a friend or family member picks up their phone to send a text or check Facebook. And just like that they have disconnected from the presence of real life people. I am not talking about the occasional check in with kids or a partner. I am talking about disengaging in active conversation to connect with the virtual world, reply to an incoming text, or send a message that could have been sent later. I’m talking about exchanges that suggest real life is not as interesting as virtual life. I’m talking about technology overload.
I recognize that some of the mechanical reactions can be productive. I’ve noticed my partner reflexively reaching for her phone at the sound of an incoming email or text. This helps her avoid stress by responding to her professional duties as soon as possible. I do this too throughout the day with my emails. However, at the end of the day when we sit at the dinner table it takes a conscious effort to put away the phones and agree to just slow down. This is one of our family rules. We temporarily disconnect from technology every day to be fully present with each other. We talk and enjoy each other’s company. We ignore our phones and computers. I absolutely love it. Having moments free from the distraction of devices helps us to stay grounded in the present moment. It provides a little balance.
I’m continuing to work on not being avoidant or allowing my technology to consume my day. Every now and then I fully unplug for a day or a weekend. I practice self-control (both the app and ability). I spend time being mindful. I decide not to pull out my phone when I can enjoy my walk outdoors or fully immerse myself in the presence of my loved ones. I make a phone call instead of sending a text or have a face-to-face talk. It may not be as convenient, but it helps me maintain a connection to other people. So, unplug for a little while, be inaccessible, set boundaries. It is okay to not be bombarded with technology. And for goodness’ sake put your phone away at the dinner table. Stop texting. Be present.