The Importance of Unplugging
Our smart phones are no longer just phones. Most of us have a relationship with our phones. They hold our calendars and our schedules. They can now serve as our timekeepers, our alarms, our watches. They provide infinite methods for us to remain stimulated, informed and entertained at all times. They provide endless ways of communicating with anyone, all the time. By touching just a few buttons, we can have essentially anything delivered to our door instantly, whether it be, food, an artisanal pizza oven, an absurdly large package of toilet paper or a drone, to name a few. We obsess over ensuring our phones are always charged and always near.
I’m not here to bash our phones. They serve so many wonderful purposes and are astounding pieces of technological innovation. It’s also no secret that our phones are highly addictive. If you see a man lose his phone, you can see sheer panic cross his face. MRI research has shown that the stimulation we get from our phones lights up the same area of the brain responsible for addiction. That area of the brain is very invested in immediate and short term gain, with little interest in long term gain or loss. Like all addictions, we can also increase our tolerance. When you first had that phone, you may not even have known what to do with it. You thought you didn’t really need it very much. But smartphones have a quick way of sucking us all in with their neatly crafted, eye catching apps, and their constant chirps and light ups.
So why is it is so important to unplug our brains from these devices?
- Like any addiction, they make us less present and aware. Just think about how many accidents are created due to someone driving while looking at their phones. Or that extreme example of the gentleman taking a walk outside, so engrossed in his smart phone that he ran into a bear. If we’re not careful with these devices, our cognitive abilities can become severely numbed (eg., memory, focus and concentration). Setting aside a day a week to walk away from the phone can literally help heal our brains. Just that one day can help us learn how to focus, concentrate, and engage in our surrounding. In other words, to simply use the brain that is there, rather than the electronic extension that our brains may become.
- Like any addiction, we can become disengaged from those who really matters to us. A case in point are people sitting down at a restaurant together, about to enjoy the pleasure of having food prepared and delivered to them by a professional, and they cannot enjoy each other’s company due to the smartphone interference. We are social creatures and we need eye contact, nonverbal feedback, and uninterrupted interactions with others. The smartphone has a way of insidiously driving a wedge between us and the people we love. Plus, it can also prevent us from forging new connections with people we haven’t met yet. Think about observing people at the supermarket, the bus stop, or pretty much any public place. If you picture a group of 10 people standing together in a public place, how many of those people would be looking down at their phones, as opposed to outwards toward the world? Just think about how many ways people could connect with each other in “real time” before the advent of this device. It’s more complicated now.
- We can take the time to live life on our own terms. A break from the virtual world of the smartphone can re-engage us with our real world. My concern for humanity is that more and more people at the end of their lives will be reflecting on the pseudo life they lived through technology, rather than the real life they lived in their world.
- We can enjoy and appreciate the simple pleasures. Simple pleasures are underrated, and are very important in terms of forging a deeper sense of satisfaction. Smartphones simply cannot give this to us.
- We can renew our sense of optimism. We get bombarded with news and opinions from around the globe. Unfortunately, if we don’t give ourselves a break from all of this, our outlook can easily be jaded into a cynical, pessimistic, fearful, limited and isolated perspective.
- Our brains can have a much needed break from social media. Social media helps us keep in touch with people we normally wouldn’t have much contact with. Most research, however, consistently shows that it has a very negative impact on our self-esteem, our body image and our overall quality of life. The highlight reels have a way of casting self-doubt on how fun, cool or enjoyable our own lives are. There is an incredibly warped message constantly conveyed by Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and the like. This message is that our lives should always be limitless, interesting and full of non-stop happy moments. This simply is not true.
- Our phones warp our creativity. And our brains need Our brains need to think, imagine, ponder, improvise and give birth to ideas that are ours and ours alone.
I challenge you to try this. Pick a day in your week to turn off and walk way from your phone (I promise, it will still be there at the end of the day!). Like all addictions, it will initially feel very difficult. With practice, the cravings will go down. And you can re-balance and ask yourself the important question: “Who’s in charge today? Myself or my phone?”
Thanks for reading! I welcome your thoughts.