I was waiting in line to board a flight. The queue didn’t seem to be moving so I pulled out my phone and scrolled through my apps.Maybe one of them will have a notification I missed. Then I checked Twitter, just to see if there was anything interesting. Facebook maybe? Nothing there, so I checked my email. I wasn’t looking for anything specific, just a routine reaction to not having anything to do.
Maybe you once found yourself doing something similar, maybe not. What is very possibly similar to my story is that you own a smartphone. Almost everyone has one. Those who don’t, have a plan to get one soon. Most of us don’t know why we need one or what exactly we’re going to do with it. Half the features go unused simply because you don’t know what to do with them. Adverts remind us to get the latest model otherwise people won’t like us; we won’t be popular enough. “This is the most advanced model. It will make your life simpler. You will be happier. Now that you can search using your voice, you don’t need to waste time typing etc. etc.”,on and on drones the marketing machine.
So eventually,you get one and you believe you ‘own’ it. In fact you end up caring for it quite well. Whenever the battery is low, you anxiously search for an available plug point. It beeps whenever it wants your attention. Have you noticed how just hearing a notification is enough for you to automatically reach for your phone? We get emotionally attached to our phones. If you misplace it at home? Turn the entire house inside-out until you find it. We’re not at peace unless our phones are ok. It makes you wonder if we own our phones or they own us.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we should all shun technology and go back to using smoke signals and carrier-pigeons. I’m saying, we need to get our lives back.
Since getting a smartphone, have you made massive leaps of progress? Have you managed to drastically improve your own life? How about the lives of the people you love the most? Has your income increased? What about your health? Marriage? Parenting skills? The answer is to all these questions is very likely, “NO”. So, if our phones haven’t improved our lives, why are we so heavily invested in them?
Here’s what’s happening to us:
1. We’re connected to everyone except those who matter the most
Mealtimes are spent telling our Facebook friends what we’re eating and checking in so that they know where we’re eating. This leaves us with little time or energy to talk to the person sitting opposite us. Parents make time to tweet their opinions on everything from fashion to organic foods, yet find it difficult to spend uninterrupted time with their kids. (Note: I’m not saying you shouldn’t tweet or use Facebook; I’m saying if you can make time to connect with people across the world, you can make the effort to give your attention and time to the people who love you)
Couples spend hundreds of hours online either debating or arguing pointless issues with total strangers, yet they struggle to spend uninterrupted time with each other to nurture their marriage. I regularly speak to hundreds of schoolchildren on a variety of issues. They face a number of obstacles and challenges,yet the lack of meaningful interaction with their parents is one the most debilitating, destructive occurrences in their lives.
It’s become easier to ‘like’ someone’s photo than to complement your spouse/kid/parents (a.k.a. the most important people in your life). We thank complete strangers for giving us some attention when they agree with something we post yet find it almost impossible to remember the last time we appreciated the love our loved ones have for us.
At the end of your life, the amount of followers,likes,shares, ‘friends’ & retweets you had won’t matter. What will matter is the love you gave to the people who mattered the most.
2. We’re documenting life’s greatest moments instead of living them
Have a lovely meal in front of you? Instagram it…then check how many likes you get. Share a picture of everything you bought on holiday, then wait to see how many comments,likes,shares you get.
We pour out hearts out on Facebook and ask for marital / medical / spiritual advice from anyone willing to share their opinion because we’ve drifted so far away from those right in front us. We’ve forgotten how to talk with the people we care for so we ask our virtual ‘friends’ & ‘followers’ for opinions and advice on sensitive issues like childbirth, parenting, marriage, divorce etc.
8 out of 10 couples who attend a marriage coaching session with me say that they don’t know how to communicate with each other anymore. 7 out of those 8 manage to spend at least 10 hours a week on either Facebook,Twitter,Instagram or YouTube.
Let’s savour the hugs of our children instead of trying to get a picture to upload. Let’s show the cook we appreciate the meal instead of thinking who to tag in the picture we’re going to take. Let’s stop and listen to the waves instead of checking in on Facebook/Instagram so everyone knows we’re on holiday. Let’s compliment our spouses instead of double-tapping an entire Instagram feed. Let’s reiterate our love for our kids instead of retweeting our favourite celebrities all day. Let’s spend more time looking at the faces of those we love and less time looking at screens.
The 10 Day Smartphone Challenge
* Starting today, don’t check/update any social media networks using your phone. If social media is an integral part of your business or job, only use it when necessary.
* Turn of ALL app notifications except for messages and calls
* Only check your phone if you receive a message
* Only check email from your primary contacts
* Ban yourself from using your phone during mealtimes,meetings and moments when you have nothing else to do.
* Don’t play any games on your phone.
* Only send messages that are absolutely necessary.
During this time, use the increased mental energy and focus to read great books, exercise regularly and form real-world human-to-human connections. Reconnect with your dreams, find a cause that’s bigger than you and dedicate some of your time and energy to it or explore ways to improve someone else’s life.