people using cellphones

I want to start with a story. One of my good friends lives in Toronto and her sister lives in the States. They’re pretty close and talk a lot on the phone, through text, and see what’s going on through Facebook and Instagram. But on a recent visit to Toronto, no matter where these ladies were or what they were doing, my friend’s sister was constantly on the phone, laptop, ipad, TV, etc. Technology interfered so much with the trip that it felt like there wasn’t a real discussion during the entire trip, despite spending much of it in the same room!

Sound familiar? We’ve all seen tables at restaurants where every person sitting is looking at a screen instead of interacting with the people at the table. We’re experiencing a shift, but is it a good one? Are we prioritizing electronic communication over face-to-face time?

The answer is a little complicated. Because being connected is great, right? Technology has done amazing things for communication: We can stay in touch with people around the world, we can quickly check in with loved ones in emergency situations, and family members can be involved in each other’s day-to-day lives even if they don’t live in the same city.

The problem with constant connection comes into play when, like in the situations above, we choose to communicate with a phone instead of with a person. Here are a few of the downfalls of being constantly connected and how you can mindfully manage them:

Our Productivity Decreases:

The modern attention span is about 8 seconds and it’s taking a toll. We’re constantly being pulled different directions – by message notifications, e-mails, pop-up ads, etc. – so of course it’s difficult to stay focused. And while we may be getting better at multitasking, we’re still not very good at it. It’s much more efficient for our brains to focus on one task at a time. But we’re an adaptive species and we can make it work. Many professionals and remote workers are learning that you have to “schedule” your electronic time the same way you schedule appointments or meetings. Certain times of day will be for responding to e-mails, for answering phone calls, and for focused working.

Start now: Dedicate a specific time slot for something on your to-do list and focus JUST on that. It doesn’t have to be a long time, but make sure it’s dedicated: phone is in the other room, TV is off, and Facebook and e-mail are closed. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can check things off your list.

Electronic Connection Lacks Depth:

We may be constantly connected, but it’s a “skin-deep” connection. The majority of electronic connection is short-lived; we are only seeing, hearing, or reading about snapshots of people’s lives – it’s rarely deep and meaningful.

When you spend time communicating face-to-face, you connect meaningfully to the life of someone you care about and you pick up on the emotions of others; you develop empathy. Empathy is something we learn, but it’s something that makes us human. Picking up on and responding to emotions is hard to pick up on from text-only conversation, no matter how many emojis you use.

Start now: Make a date with a friend you haven’t seen in a while. Even if it’s just for an hour, dedicate yourself to that person and get back to human connection.

We’re Less Collaborative:

The ability to work with others doesn’t come naturally to humans; it’s a learned skill that comes from being in a social environment. It’s true we’ve become collaborative in other ways – for example, we’re great at raising money for natural disasters or propelling a cause (think ALS Ice Bucket Challenge), but the working in small groups part seems to get trickier.

When you spend time face-to-face instead of face-to-screen you have a lot of cues, like body language, facial expression, voice inflection and physical touch (touching a hand, arm, etc), that keep you clued in to what the other person is feeling and you have less chance of mis-communicating.

Start now: When you have a chance to work on a project face-to-face, take it! Brainstorm, plan, or write in a group and on paper to get the creative juices flowing in a different way.

We Miss Out on Life:

That sounds a little harsh, but it’s so easy to get sucked in to TV shows, Netflix, and social media that we can lose sight of who we are and what we want for our own lives. On top of that, even though we can be less than empathetic when we communicate electronically, we can absolutely have emotional and physical reactions to things that happen on screen – like jumping during a scary movie or crying during a sad movie.

That fluctuation of emotion can be exhausting, and sometimes comes at the risk of ignoring our own emotions. When you spend time on yourself, by yourself, or in small groups you reconnect with what your priorities, values and goals are and can better plan to move forward.

Start now: Take 10 – 15 minutes every day (ideally early on in the day) where you do something just for you. It can be anything: going for a quick walk, reading, writing or just sitting back and doing nothing. You’ll be amazed how much your energy, efficiency and outlook will improve from such a small amount of time.

Stop being constantly connected!

When it comes to technology – as in all things – it’s about balance. It’s almost impossible to disconnect completely and why would you want to? Technology has brought amazing changes to modern living! But being constantly connected can definitely take a toll. Take a step back and evaluate what kind of small changes will have the biggest impact in your life. And, as always, take what you want and leave the rest.

Shane

What’s your relationship with technology like? How do YOU make it work? Let us know in the comments.

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