My clients often come in, sit down and put their cell phone on the couch right next to them. It didn’t used to be this way; just a few years ago it was unusual to bring a phone into the counseling office. Nowadays, phones are constant companions – or constant task masters. Being separated from them makes us anxious, or just seems impossible.
While I often encourage clients to give themselves a break from technology when they come in to see me, it is often more difficult to do so at home. Technology ends up extending the workday into the evening – particularly if you’re working for an employer with offices across more than one time zone. But even people who don’t face employment pressures to be instantly available face the urge to stay electronically connected. Why? Louis C.K. offers his thoughts here:
A recent article in the New York Times offers additional thoughts and is worth a read.
I used to think that we had just gotten ahead of ourselves technologically and hadn’t figured out the emotional, relational and social implications of ever-more-intrusive technology. Lately I’ve been thinking it is less a matter of changing the way we use technology than one of how technology is changing us.
Is Louis right? Do we use technology to avoid not only loneliness, but feeling at all? Technology provides new and better ways for us to distract ourselves and fill spaces and interludes in our life. Does this really enrich us? Are we happier?
When we hear the little chime that indicates a Facebook update or a text message or email arrival, we experience a physiological response. Human beings are social creatures, and we’re hard-wired to respond when another person reaches out to us. Our attention shifts for a moment. We are pulled away from where we physically exist. Just sensing the vibration of the phone in a pocket or on a tabletop affects us.
Disconnecting can feel like disloyalty. It feels irresponsible not to respond immediately. But when we prioritize the disembodied person on the other end of the electronic connection, our face-to-face interactions suffer. That’s especially true for couples. Work/life balance has become trickier in the face of always-on life. We want to be noticed, heard and appreciated by our partners. But even the most desirable lover may find it hard to compete with the siren song of our devices. Multitasking may seem efficient, but it often means that nothing gets our full attention and we enjoy everything less than we would otherwise.
Boundaries help us maintain health; don’t let technology take over your life.
- Keep your gadgets away from places you eat. You don’t need to work or communicate while you’re eating; this goes double if you’re eating with a friend or partner.
- Keep your phone out of your bedroom to avoid distractions when you should be sleeping.
- Consider putting the stuff away (or even turning it off!) after a certain point in the evening so you can have peace and quiet.