Welcome to America’s newest epidemic: our addiction to smartphones. Our cellphones are so ubiquitous that they are comfortably inserted into the fabric of our daily lives. The need, the urge, the desire – oh, the pressure! – to stay connected 24/7 is deeply imbedded into our consciousness to the detriment of our quality of life. The irony is we are becoming increasingly isolated despite our connections on social media.
Take a look around you, it is omnipresent: family dinner tables, restaurants, walking the dog, standing in line at the post office, the gym, the supermarket aisles, even behind the wheel. Sipping ‘n texting at Starbucks is a synchronized sport, even when we are sitting across the table with a dear friend. In fact, Wi-Fi may just be the hottest thing on the menu at the coffeehouse. This always-on, always-connected technology has made it too easy for millions of us to feed our internet addiction.
Our obsession with smartphones shows a radical change in the way we think about being connected with other people in modern society. Texting, tweeting, posting, liking, surfing, even sexting have all become a mainstream phenomenon. This may fulfill us momentarily with a jolt of adrenaline rush when we send and receive but – like Chinese food where we are hungry again an hour later – our insatiable appetite for a deeper connection returns. My sense is many of us falsely buy into the notion that all this technological activity satiates our need for human connection. But we crave a deeper intimacy and the artificial sugar rush of a random text, LOL or instagram photo should not be considered a substitute for seeing that face and smile in the flesh.
When did this all become socially acceptable? The irony is you may agree with the premise of my question but most likely are a repeat offender yourself. It is so deeply imbedded into our culture now that we may be too oblivious to look into the mirror. Our phones are so prevalent, a ball & chain wrapped around in the palm of our hand. And the fashionistas have made our phones a must-have accessory, flashing their neon or hot pink colored phone prominently on every table and chair. It is like a statement item, signaling to all we too are cool and in the club.
But many of us with self-awareness would agree we have become obsessively addicted to our little 4×6 screen. Even if we can manage some self control, the double edged sword is now the expectation from others of reading and replying in real time: I sent you a text ten minutes ago, why have you not got back to me yet?! This sets a dangerous precedent that hard wires us to feel compelled to constantly glance at our phone. A teen will totally ignore her parents during dinner conversation, but will knee-jerk respond under the table cloth every time her phone goes off. It is a conundrum we have created and willfully accepted by being so responsive. And, all too often, it is speed over accuracy as our priority, thereby compromising the quality of the reply.
Of course, there is a proper time and place to use our phones. But establishing boundaries can do wonders for all of our mental health. We are a stressed out digitally dependent culture and miss so many precious moments by not being fully aware of our surroundings. Being present, absorbing all the sensations of sound, sight, taste and touch can only be realized by being mindful of the beauty that unfolds around us in the moment. So put the phone away and look around, you may just like what you see and have missed so much lately. You may not get Wi-Fi in the forest but may find a far deeper connection.
Imagine a day where we all agree to disconnect, a phone away day. No texting, tweeting, liking on Facebook, nothing except necessary phone calls. If we could all find consensus on this, then we would mutually agree to the freedom it allows us of no expectations to reply. The demands of reciprocity go away, just for one day. We would be free to be, such a lovely luxury. Our level of awareness would rise commensurate with our level of stress plummeting. We could take notice of all the beauty that surrounds us, moment by magical moment. We could engage in deep conversation without interruption, see nature without distraction and even drive without temptation. Ahhh, I can already feel the masses decompress in a collective sigh as we disconnect to connect.