Recently for a class, I watched a TED Talk by psychologist Sherry Turkle. It was perfectly delivered, enlightening, and about a topic that I think we really need to start taking seriously (who knew you could actually apply your homework to real life, right?).
(If you’re interested, you can find the video here.)
Entitled, “Connected, But Alone?”, the TED Talk addresses the overuse of technology—specifically phones—in modern society. No, this isn’t new. We’ve all heard it. We all know we need to stop relying on our phones, that we use them too much, that the rising generation is rapidly losing real social skills. Yet, nothing really changes.
I still look around in every public place I go to see practically every unoccupied person on their phones. I’m guilty of it myself. If I’m in line at the grocery store, or sitting alone at the gas pump, or my friend goes to the bathroom during dinner at a restaurant, I pick up my phone. If I’m on a long car ride, or waiting for a work meeting to start, or walking home from class, I pick up my phone. What else could be happening in all those little moments? Something greater than seeing what my drunk friends put on Snapchat last night, that’s for sure.
The issue isn’t so much what’s happening now. Most would say it’s fairly harmless to check Facebook for a few minutes when nothing exciting is going on. According to Turkle, the issue is what we are doing to ourselves over time—what is going to happen after years and years of depending on digital spaces incessantly.
If you look at the patterns, we often resort to our phones when we’re feeling alone. When we’re surrounded by people we aren’t familiar with, when our company leaves us temporarily, or even when we’re just sitting on our beds by ourselves. For a lot of people, it can feel awkward or undesirable to be alone, and it can even open us up to situations where we have to interact with strangers (how weird would it be for the person sitting next to you in the restaurant waiting area to strike up a conversation?).
All of this phone use is making us so active in the digital realm that we are often ignoring what is physically present. Sometimes it just feels more comfortable to escape into our phones, where we can plan and customize everything. Conversation and interaction with other human beings requires so much more effort: it’s real, it’s now, and it can’t be edited.
We need to be comfortable being alone. We need to teach the next generation to be comfortable being alone. And we have to learn to experience the real and the now.
Here are a few tips you can use to get away from that sticky, pesky device:
- Wear a watch. I use my phone as a watch, which leads me to see my Facebook notifications, which leads me to spend the next twenty minutes scrolling through nonsense.
- Stop using your phone as an alarm clock. EVERYONE uses their phone as an alarm clock nowadays. It’s convenient, mobile, and has so many sounds to choose from. If you can stand to part with those aspects, get yourself an old-fashioned alarm clock (yes, they still sell them). It’s not good to wake up in the morning immediately inundated with messages and notifications. Half the time I go back to sleep after my first alarm, dreaming about things that popped up on my phone screen. I can’t put a finger on why, but that just can’t be healthy.
- Put your phone away at dinner. Most of us leave our phones next to us, right by our plates. Like they’re some kind of prestigious tool that must be present at all times. You might not mean it like this, but leaving your phone right there tells the people you’re with, “You aren’t important enough to have my undivided attention.”
- Try looking around sometimes. This doesn’t mean you can’t use your phone when it’s necessary, but don’t cover up your real surroundings by fabricated digital content for no reason. I’ve started asking myself why on earth I would need to scroll through Instagram looking at edited images when I’m riding in a car through real, beautiful landscapes.
- Download Pocket Points. This app is SWEET. In exchange for locking your phone, you earn points that add up to coupons (free food, anyone?). Only since I started using this app did I realize how often I look at my phone.
Smartphones are amazing, and technology is going to take us some great places, but we need to control it–not the other way around. We have to draw the line between humanity and technology.
Cover photo found here.