Technology has made our lives immeasurably easier, and in many ways richer than we ever could have imagined. Never before has information been so accessible, have networks of like-minded people been available at the tap of a button, have entertainment choices been so vast. The current reality would have been unthinkable ten years ago, and frankly unimaginable twenty years ago. It’s a golden age of human technological brilliance that’s moving us forward at warp speed.
On the other hand, we’re learning there is a dark side to this embarrassment of riches. Our technological abundance has come at a cost, one that we as a society are only just beginning to fathom.
It's becomes painfully apparent that we are addicted to the wonders at our fingertips. Glance around any public or private space. Often, instead of talking to each other, we’re gazing downwards into a private universe. The super computers in our pockets offer us the weather, instant access to colleagues and loved ones, a tribe of peers, endless diversion, and the answer to any question you can dream up. What they don’t do, and never will, is offer human companionship.
Though we've never been so virtually connected, it is simultaneously true that rates of depression and anxiety have never been higher. The current state of affairs is uncharted territory, and in many ways we’re making up the rules as we go along. As a society, we’re beginning to recognize the pendulum has swung into the unknown. It’s irrefutable that technology has made life easier. It’s also become undeniable that we’ve lost something precious in the transition.
Striking a Balance
The matter, of course, isn’t black and white. Despite the headlines, I’m not willing to throw away my phone, and I’m betting you aren’t either (how could I live without Instagram??). The answer lies in the happy medium, in the grey zone between a total disconnect and becoming a mindless slave to our devices. Technology is here to stay. Yet we need to remember there is no equivalent to personal, face-to-face communication.
It’s essential to your well being (and yes, your longevity too) to remember that we’re hard wired as a species to be social, to work together, to nurture relationships through conversation with friends and family and neighbours. To regain this balance, we need to take a good hard look at our habits, compare the number of hours we spend talking to a computer versus connecting with a human being, and shuffle the deck accordingly.
How to Put Down Your Phone
Awareness is an essential first step: ask yourself, when was the last time you truly logged off all technology for a day? If the answer is foggy, consider these steps.
Make your meals a no-phone zone.
Leave your phone on silent.
Schedule a time every night to turn it off (yes, entirely off).
When you get together with friends, leave your phone at home (or at least in your pocket).
Go on a walk and resist the urge to slip it in your pocket or plug into headphones. Make eye contact with strangers and say hello.
Never keep your phone (or iPad, or laptop) in your bedroom.
Plan an old-fashioned board game night with friends or family. Have guests check their smartphones at the door.
Consider the occasional phone-free day. With the extra time this gives you, pick up a hobby or learn something new.
Ironically, there’s an excellent App for disconnecting. If you just can’t kick the habit, give it a try.
Take every opportunity to make connections; chat with strangers, extend compliments, commiserate over the weather, share a joke. The sparks from these small, benign encounters can create a ripple effect, and are ultimately the stuff that make our lives worthwhile.