When I wake up in the morning, there are two things to be done immediately. Starting the coffee maker comes first. Sorting through a daunting list of emails, Facebook updates and messages, tweets, sports scores and news headlines comes next. This can be an exhausting start to the day.
By the time the coffee is prepared, my eyes have seen a wide array of information, but my mind hasn’t taken it all in. It has been on autopilot. The availability of instant information allows us more knowledge and social interaction than any previous generation could have dreamed of. But what happens when our use of technology is keeping us from enjoying the simple pleasures right in front of us?
I have always had conflicted feelings about how tightly woven technology is into the framework of our lives. On one hand, the breadth of information that is available to me at any moment is an amazing thing. The ability to be at the local coffee shop having a video call with a friend thousands of miles away is truly an incredible thing. On the other hand, this power can become quite seductive. Why bother learning new facts when you can simply google it? Why talk with strangers in public when you can text friends instead? I have found myself going down the path of overusing my smartphone a number of times a day. While I recognized that I felt no connection to my surroundings, the allure of an endless source of information and entertainment proved too much for me to care! Recently, there was an instance where my phone had died and I learned a valuable lesson because of it.
A couple of weeks ago I went to pick up my order of Chinese takeout. The dining area was empty, save for the 20 something hostess and an old woman sitting at a small table in the corner. The hostess occasionally left her post to sit with the old woman. They seemingly knew each other well. The two occasionally talked, but there was much comfortable silence. They ate their meals with full attention, no phones or distractions in sight. They seemed completely at peace. This got my mind running with ideas. How does glancing at my phone during dinner enhance the experience? If anything, it turns a delicious meal into one that I hardly remember tasting. I had reached a crossroads.
When I examined my unhealthy smartphone use, I began to think about how many little things I had missed out on. A sense of guilt and disappointment took over my being. I took a walk to clear my head, without the phone. There were a million thoughts running through my mind. Occasional urges to reach into my pocket for a phone that wasn’t there interrupted my thoughts, but I still achieved what I had set out to do: I decided to switch to a less “pleasurable” phone to use. I obtained an old BlackBerry capable of most modern conveniences, but a bit slower than the speeds that I am used to.
It has been about two weeks since I switched phones. I have noticed that I have a “healthier” relationship with the use of my phone. I still check Facebook, Twitter, and browse the web a few times per day, but I spend much less time doing so. I also have noticed that I am more likely to put the phone back into my pocket in order to be present with whatever is happening around me. My attitude has changed from the phone being a source of entertainment to the phone being an assistant to put aside when appropriate. I have explained my efforts to some friends who have joined me in taking back control.
I would like to propose a challenge. Evaluate your use of technology on a daily basis, decide if it is too much at times. If it is, join me in a conscious effort to be present more by using your devices less. You can slowly reduce usage, or do as I did and make a drastic cut all at once. The benefits of doing so will make themselves clear within a day, or a week. But I promise you, life will be more rich and rewarding once you’ve taken this bold first step.