More Meaningful Interactions

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“You can’t upload love, you can’t download time, you can’t Google all of life’s answers. You must actually live some of your life.” ~ author attributions vary

A recent TIME mobility survey polled 5,000 people and found that 84% of participants couldn’t go a single day without their mobile device, with 25% admitting that they checked their phones every 30 minutes. With so many ways to check in and let the world know exactly what you’re doing and when, many feel pressured to maintain their online identity, tweeting, and over-communicating around the clock.

That’s not all bad, but it’s not all good, either. More and more, many people live under the expectation of constant connection. The digital age brings with it many blessings, especially in terms of ready information and immediately accessible research. We know issues, developments and stories instantly, promptly communicate them to friends and colleagues, and get instant feedback. Some ask, is this critically important?

How often do we find ourselves reading or posting to social media instead of socializing with family and friends — or tweeting life as observers rather than living it? Is there balance? Does there need to be balance?

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There is a technology backlash that has been gaining momentum over the past few years. The idea? Unplug yourself and reconnect with an analog way of life. Oddly, the epicenter of this movement is the San Francisco Bay Area, also home to the tech-saturated Silicon Valley. Why? Because people are finding that being digitally tethered distracts them from more meaningful interactions.

At the heart of this movement is getting back to a purer way of living: rediscovering hobbies, using one’s hands, getting outdoors, and having conversations that aren’t mediated by bits and bytes.

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Here’s an ironic observation: All of our devices have rechargeable batteries and in order to recharge, they all need to be plugged in. Unlike our rechargeable toys, we often need to unplug — in order to recharge.

If you’re someone who wants to unplug or not always be “on,” these three ideas may help to shift your digital device dependency. Who knows, they may even yield less stress.

  1. Use technology to master technology. Block your email or Internet access so you’re not tempted. As an example, Apple users can use the program “Freedom” to disable networking from their computer. That way, they can concentrate on what they need to get done, and can only get online by going through the hassle of rebooting.
  2. Find something better to do. It’s natural to flip through your Facebook news feed or channel surf when there’s seemingly nothing better to do. To mitigate these sessions, create other options. Craft a list of hobbies or activities that you really like, then choose one of those alternatives instead. Bake, read a book, draw, play basketball.
  3. Set limits. Consider “lobotomizing” your smartphone by killing your data plan, which means you can only access the Internet through WiFi and not at every red light. Then, when you’re sitting at a railroad crossing, instead of being on your phone, look at the graffiti on the boxcars going by. Would that be so bad?

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92 thoughts on “More Meaningful Interactions

  1. I think it’s a matter of balance. Everything in moderation. I do love my phone and given half a chance I look at it often, but I also purposely leave it at home when I am out, or not in the same room when I am with my kids watching something or having dinner etc.
    I think it is good to bring it to peoples attention, as you did so well in this post.

    • I read (since publishing this post) about people who are intentionally creating weekend or longer ‘escapes’ because they find they cannot find that balance in a world that, to them, is becoming increasingly digital, fast-paced, and impersonal. They’re going on retreats to monasteries where no technology is permitted and quiet, intimate conversation is encouraged. It’s just fascinating to watch how people are ‘regrounding’ more frequently and in more creative ways. I guess if one cannot find a desired balance, there are other alternatives. Thanks for chiming in, tric.

  2. I think the consequences of spending all of one’s time transfixed by technology has already exacted too high a cost on our relationships and face-to-face communications. I see people sitting together at a restaurant who never speak to each other because they are glued to the screen on their phones. Great post…

    • Agreed! I am constantly amazed by ENTIRE FAMILIES sitting at the table, each with an electronic device in hand! It’s so sad! I purposely leave my phone in my purse when I’m out with my husband or with friends. I don’t want to be distracted from connecting with the person I’m with for even a second!

    • Thank you, Mimi. If my bias wasn’t clear in the post, I could not agree with you more. Sometimes I wonder how far off we are from virtual beings, clones and robots with AI. For all of the pros with technology, I’m seeing and hearing about the cons much more frequently. Thanks for sharing your very poignant observations.

  3. I agree Eric you need to find a balance but I must say since starting a blog I have met so many amazing, inspiring people that I would never have met if it wasn’t for the internet. People from all over the world its a wonderful thing.

    • I concur with you, Kath. In my case, WordPress is the only social media site with which I am active — for the very reason you cite. I am charmed by/with many I have met (virtually).

      It’s ‘other’ platforms that many seem to be inordinately aligned with. The concept of balance seems a focus that some might benefit from. Who knows how a shift or what a redirection of some people’s time and energy might yield…

  4. You had me until graffiti on boxcars; but that’s another issue. I have been with people who would not put away the smart phone. When asked to visit instead of doing whatever on the phone, the reply was, “I can’t. I have given all I have today, and there’s nothing left. This is what I need right now.” Maybe our phones also have become places to which we retreat; places of peace and tranquility in a demanding, inconsiderate world. Or maybe it’s a habit people don’t really want to break. It still is disconcerting to see face to face relationships take a backseat to an online life.

    • Yes, it’s seemingly all very important. I hear and understand what you’re saying about phones being a “retreat.” I don’t see it that way. I see mobile technology devices as enablers of the inconsiderate world you reference. I truly believe that we who value peace and tranquility know where to go and how to achieve both. And it’s not with or through smartphones and other technology. You’re spot-on, vg, and I agree with you about in-person communication. Thanks for adding your personal perspectives!

  5. So true- I have read how many miss being “in the moment” because they are busy posting and tweeting “the moment” instead of experiencing it. It is a wonderful thing to take in nature, and stop to listen to the sounds around you!

  6. Yep – good advice, Eric – BUT – A BIG BUT – wherever I go I seem to come across people sitting together and each focusing on their mobile device, looking down, in their own worlds…how great it would be if people could shut off their devices and talk to each other

  7. I see so much documentation of moments of some people I wonder if they truly experience them. It’s sad. Sure their children will see lots of photos of them as children, but how much interaction are they having other than getting their photo snapped and posted. I’m not saying everyone does this, but I am acquainted with some who post to FB all day long with what they are doing with their children.
    …and there are those who talk on their phones and ignore others.

    • I (and many others) see these things as clearly as you, Suzi. For me, it’s simply one aspect of humanity and its vast diversity. With all of who we are comes the attractive and (what some of us consider) the less attractive.

      When things don’t align with my values, orientation, and intentions, I simply redirect my focus to possibilities and opportunities that are important to me and those who I care about. I cannot and not let others choices overwhelm mine. πŸ™‚

  8. I was in Costco a while back and a woman was fuming: “How can people in this day and age not have call waiting? I can’t reach so-and-so!” I looked at her then told my husband that we’ve become a society of NOW. It’s very sad to see a mother and her two children sitting at a restaurant and she has her bloody ear piece thingy in (oooh… she’s SOOO important!) and totally ignoring her two small kids.

    I do use technology a lot but I also often forget my phone at home! The Universe keeps telling me to unplug! πŸ˜‰ Now, back to my endless painting…

    • Not all of us have joined that society of NOW, Dale. I believe there is a sizable population within this blogging community and beyond, who see and feel about things as you and I (and others) do. I actually look forward to the time and space in which I know I can and will be untethered/unplugged.

      And just to comfort you, the painting will not be endless. πŸ™‚ I suspect there is some manner in which it can be enjoyable.

  9. A really good point Eric. Its easy to become addicted to immediacy!
    Awareness is always the first step. I know that I can get caught up in it. It isn’t just “them” its all of us πŸ˜‰
    I’ll be going to Kripalu tomorrow for 10 days and have decided to be on retreat from social media. It will be a challenge not to feel so connected πŸ˜‰

    • I’d say thank you, Val, but I know you’re away and unplugged. πŸ™‚ I hope when you return rested and reinvigorated that you will not be scrolling through back posts to read and comment on them. You’re still connected here.

  10. I just read an article about how some children seem to be losing their ability to distinguish different emotions in facial expressions. Researchers think too much digital interactions and not enough face to face interactions is the root cause. I know for myself, if I don’t unplug on a regular basis, I start feeling “off” and, ironically, more disconnected to others.

    Great list of suggestions! I especially like #2 – Find something better to do. Hiking and photography are my hobbies!

    http://www.npr.org/blogs/ed/2014/08/28/343735856/kids-and-screen-time-what-does-the-research-say

    • Thanks for your NPR link and comment, Patty. A good article!

      I’m finding it interesting (though not surprising) that most commenting here would probably agree with your experience of starting to feel “off” when in digital-overload mode. I definitely hear what you are saying about, ‘ironically, feeling more disconnected.’ There are times when I’m sure it feels like a black hole ‘out there’ for many people. Better to be aware of what it’s doing to us, individually (and collectively), so we can make some healthy choices – physically and emotionally.

  11. Excellent timing for this post for me, Eric. Leaving on vacation Saturday….pulling the plug on emails and blogs and blogging, and Facebook. I need a vacation from Facebook. I’ll use my smart phone for some photos only. Going to try to be in the moment live for the whole week.

  12. It’s saddening to me that this sort of advice pops up frequently (not to diminish what you’ve said, as it’s indeed important) – but I feel like I regularly see these types of articles in print or the subject is broadcasted on the news or something, and everyone nods and agrees, yet we still all scramble to connect our phones to our tablets to our computers to our work computers to our cars to our refrigerators with the up to date. I got off Facebook a few years ago and have never looked back. It was the best (and not as difficult as I thought) technological “unplugging” I’ve done! Anyway, thanks for being a voice on this!

    • Here’s a thought… as long as people are continually creating awareness about this matter and keeping it at the fore, then maybe there exists a greater probability that some will consider changing their habits/routines. Sometimes, people are deeply immersed in something and until another calls it to their attention, they don’t even realize how consumed they’ve become. By sharing recent unplugging developments, perhaps in reading an article one might say: Hmmm, that sounds like something I ought to consider. πŸ™‚

  13. As, seemingly, one of the last people on the planet without a smart phone I think about this often. When I’m in line for coffee or at a sporting event I will count the number of people around me with heads bowed over their phones. Having said that, I know that I could possibly be one of those people, which is why I’ve held out on purchasing a smart phone. Technology – it’s a balancing act for sure.

  14. You got it, Eric — a list of hobbies to give us something else to do when being connected becomes some kind of second nature. Where will technology take us, eventually? Wild just trying to imagine.

    • Well, instead of wondering where technology will take us eventually, Silvia, what if we chose to focus on where we could take ourselves (literally and figuratively) with fewer digital attachments? Imagine that! πŸ™‚

  15. I don’t have a problem with this. I’m only connected when I’m sitting at my desk in front of my desk top. I don’t have a smart phone or a tablet or a reader. I seldom use a cell phone. I’ve blocked texts from my cell phone. I don’t keep my e-mail open when I’m working on something else. I rarely swing by FB. I don’t Twitter or Tweet. Etc.

    And when my nieces visit, we have “Text Free Time” during games and meals. 😎

    • Bravo, Nancy. You are proof that it can be done, easily. It simply takes a bit of self-management, coupled with a desire to be less digitally aligned. That “Text Free Time” sounds like it could be a challenge for younger ones. Are they teens? πŸ™‚

      • They were 17 & 13 when I announced the first Text Free Time ~> their mouths hung open for a moment or two and then (like the Whos down in Whoville) they cried out “Boo Hoo!”

        In reply, I gave them my best Grinchy smile . . . which made them laugh and they agreed to put their phones in the other room for the duration of the game(s). Yay!

        Now (at 21 and 17), they know the ground rules so it doesn’t cause such a shock to their systems. :mrgreen:

  16. Awesome post, Eric! I love what you’re saying here, it’s oh so true!
    I shut down my facebook account over 5 years ago and you wouldn’t believe the weirdly negative responses I get from people about that. I think you nailed it when you mention the pressure of keeping our online persona going. I had someone tell me that they’re worried I’ll alienate myself without Facebook…well, okay but how do people think people were engaging prior to all of this online stuff??
    We also don’t have smart phones, we have old school flip phones that basically only manage old-school text messages while in Korea. I had one girl ask me if we navigated our way around the new countries we visit for vacation Galileo style? I honestly don’t understand people sometimes…do we even remember life before this stuff? It’s completely possible to get by and dare I say thrive without it. My husband and I are living proof of that.
    On a recent visit to Kuala Lumpur we didn’t have a clue how to get to our hotel and you know what we did without having access to the internet? We asked someone, and not only did we get to experience some terrific local hospitality, but we received perfect directions in less than a minute…go figure, right?
    Balance is key for pretty much everything but especially this!
    ~ Andrea ❀

    • I am definitely a technology laggard, Andrea. I only established a Facebook page 1.5 years ago. And I will have deactivated it before this calendar year is out.

      Of course we can cope with life and most of our needs, sans smartphones and Internet access. It’s a choice. And some *are* choosing to live their lives quite fine, thank you, the ‘old fashioned’ way (which could easily be as recent as ways of 10-20 years ago). I’m wondering if the concept of balance is truly unattractive to some people. And if it is, why? But that’s for another post. πŸ™‚ Appreciate your thoughtful comment.

  17. Ah yes. Technology has two sides. It brings us closer to more people than ever before but it also brings us farther away from what we have right in front of us. I think this will be a very important age because it is the first one dealing with the saturation of technology. I think you’re right in that there will have to be some disconnecting and nod back to the past before all of this.

    • Thanks for your comment, Ben. I’m obviously aligned with your thinking here. With most anything, there are pros and cons, two sides as you reference. With two sides, there is often some balance or accepted compromise. I’m wondering why we’re seeing matters lean one way more heavily with technology use. But that’s simply me having a rhetorical conversation with myself. πŸ™‚ I like your term “a nod back to the past” and I find it encouraging that some are beginning to take your words to heart and action.

      • Yes, yes. I agree. I think this age will be more different than any other that has come before. But I guess all the ages say that, so we’ll just have to see. You’re and thanks, too. Have a great rest of your day!

  18. This is fantastic and so very true. Technology, and especially social media, can most definitely be an addiction. I suppose with great power comes great responsibility. I love the analogy of the need to unplug in order to recharge! Great ideas and reminders we could all use!

    • Interesting observation… “with great powers comes great responsibility.” I remain optimistic that the need for responsibility and balance will be realized as people lurch forward with the rapidly changing technological landscape. And that they create time to unplug. πŸ™‚

  19. Stellar observations and recommendations Eric! It has been somewhat depressing for me at times to be at a table with a bunch of friends, only to have their heads turned downward, staring at their electronic devices. That’s not the worst part though. The worst part is when you realize that they were texting each other when they are physically sitting across the table from each other!

    We had a dramatic culture shift with the evolution of technological capabilities over the last ten years or so. As you have stated, in my opinion, we have shifted way too far, and would do well to pull back our dependency on it. Reading a book, cooking a nice dinner, playing guitar, talking with another human being – face to face, these are all almost artifacts of the past that need to be brought back into the present. Thanks for sharing such an important message!

    • Children, teens, adults… collectively have fallen into this chasm. And many of them seek quite comfortable being there. As I so (too?) often share, it’s a matter of choice (s).

      I obviously concur with you dramatic culture shift view. But it’s certainly not too late to interject some heightened awareness into the mix, at least for those who may be receptive to revisiting courtesy, communication, and connection. There will always be a social segment who value these latter skills and qualities.

      Thanks for creating time to share your appreciated thoughts, Dave.

  20. Awesome post Eric and such creative delivery. We are taught this idea of the “Energizer Bunny” that just keeps going and going, but I get the feeling that bunny crashes hard!

    I love your astute observation of the irony that devices must be plugged in and therefore we must conversely be unplugged. I have the great privilege to live in nature where the constant earthly allure beckons me, and even still the techno beasts draw me too far in. Thanks for a great reminder and an excellent post.

    Here’s to attentive human interaction in the flesh! πŸ™‚

    Amanda

    • Or… the bunny keeps on running until it runs somewhere that has no human interaction, no laughter, no physical connections. Then what? Does the bunny dig even deeper into the digital world it’s inhabiting. Sounds to me like Tolkien, Lewis Carroll, or Stephen King material. πŸ™‚

      How privileged, indeed, you are to live among nature (and goats!). At least you have a realistic setting into which you can step and unplug, at will. Many, in less conducive (read: hussle bustle of urban rat races) environments may not have immediate access to ‘reality.’ Perhaps, Amanda, you could arrange your living space into a retreat destination?

      And absolutely to human interaction in the flesh. Is there something distasteful about that?

  21. I found it interesting that the movement is beginning in San Fran area. The next time I plug in a device to “recharge”, I will think of this post- and remind myself that I should recharge myself by stepping away from such devices for some time. REally good post.

    • Pretty simple, right, Kim? πŸ™‚ Sometimes just a little intentional awareness can yield a significant ‘return.’ Here’s to our collective, periodic unplugging. Thanks for adding your helpful, personal solution.

  22. Great and timely post Eric…have been watching the hysteria around the new iPhone. I’m happy to say, I have finally…at least partially…mastered the skill of unplugging. Never clued to my phone any longer (my Blackberry used to be a 24h companion until a few years ago). No need to stay constantly connected…I started with your number 2 and then killed the data to only use Wifi. Great advice right there, it works! And it’s been a real charge for my health and peace of mind.

    • Exactly, Tiny. Is there truly a need to stay constantly connected. What did parents do before smartphones when they went out for an evening? They left the kids in trusted care and could always find a (gasp!) public phone if they needed to check in or be reached. I have been hearing about more people opting out of data plans for their mobile devices.

      Warmed to learn that your choices are yielding heath and peace of mind benefits for you! Here’s to others sharing in your experience!.

  23. When I vacation away from home, I check my email at least twice –beginning of day before we explore the world, end of day before sleep. It works for me. Why else would I need to be hooked up? I usually have done my tourist research in advance…for places to see, etc.

    Fear of being plugged in addictively, is probably why I haven’t gotten a cellphone yet. Not caring to deal with yet more strangers on facebook, twitter is another reason….. I’m not out to promote my blog lots. Happy with a regular small group of readers. That’s enough connection in blogosophere.

    • Why else? That pretty much sums it. As shared with another commenter who has yet to purchase/own a cellphone, how wise! And your life functions quite well, I surmise.

      As for connections in the social media realm, I’ve always been attracted to quality over quantity. And within this WordPress community I have found ample quality. Great points, Jean. Thanks for sharing them.

  24. Balance is always the key. I find that people are actually inclined to go and do things outside their commonplace because of social media. Because the more things they do outside, the more they share. I’m not one who constantly check my phone or internet. I actually don’t have internet. I use cafes or work computer. That way, my time on the internet is limited. My cellphone is awful with battery charging. But that also hinders me from getting imprisoned by constant cellphone attention.

    • Here’s to limited Internet access and lousy cellphone batteries! Seriously, Rommel you get by just fine with what you’ve got and you’ve figured a way to access the Internet when you need it. I suspect you enjoy not being imprisoned. So bravo for the manner in which you are striking your balance! Appreciate your personal view here.

  25. I appreciate this post and the time to took to write it. People are slowly losing meaningful connections with others. They no longer know how to visit together without a phone or iPad in hand, or go out to dinner without watching videos at the table or updating their friends on Facebook. It’s a sad time, really. Setting limits is a must and it is something that I have to remind myself to do also from time to time. My ‘addiction’ is here on WordPress. That is where I really must be careful to apply self discipline.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I’m smiling at your word choice — “addiction.” Then I suppose many of us here are addicts. πŸ™‚ Kidding aside yet as evidenced by a majority of the comments, many people are aligned with your thoughts and concerns. Perhaps if we continue to lead by example, others will have their own awareness heightened. Who knows what might happen then.

  26. Have re-read this post and for me one of the big things about this issue is that for all the supposed communication that appears to be going on – who is really listening? Listening, IMHO, being at the heart of quality communication.

    • Yours is a great point! Not only who is really listening but who cares? I obviously exclude our WP blogging community, where people do listen and contribute meaningfully. However, for the remainder of the current social media sites, I do wonder. Listening *is* core to effective communication. Thank you for that reminder.

  27. another great post and very timely for me right now. i’m loving the world of digital communications and the sharing of ideas (and making friends!) that technology brings. but it’s no substitute for ‘real’ human interaction, and it’s all-to-easy to get imbalanced with the constant flow of e-distractions. it takes conscious effort, but the un-plugging can be done! aleya

  28. Such a timely and perfect post for everyone to consider…as I think the choice may eventually come down to your third point β€œlobotomizing” your smartphone” because I think at some point it must happen before your smartphone “lobotomizes you”. Well said Eric.

    • Clever play on lobotomize, Randy. πŸ™‚ I’m wondering if we in Western cultures are already on a train well out of the station. I keep reminding myself that we are always at choice and that no one is coercing us into being tethered.

      I hope you’re well and able to avoid the protests/demonstrations in HKG.

      • I agree, the train may have well left the station…and sometimes I wonder if we are comforted by the tethering. Scary but perhaps quite accurate.

        Off to the demonstrations this afternoon ~ just to see and feel what is going on. It was pretty much innocent until the wrong decision was made…

  29. I just got my first I phone a couple months ago. It’s a good thing it is harder to read than my laptop and gives me a headache if I look at it too much as I am prone to do, or I would use it more. Just a few hours ago, my husband and I walked on the beach and saw the moon’s silver reflection on the waves. I tried to take a video of the waves, but they didn’t show up very well at all. Otherwise, I didn’t look at my phone. It was a beautiful night with lots of stars and an invigorating crispness in the air that could not be captured by technology. You just had to be there. Nature is good at bringing me back to real life.

  30. Congratulations, JoAnne on acquiring an iPhone. I can relate to the challenges it presents when we’re accustomed to larger screens/font sizes. But what I found much more warming and valuable was the share about your walk on the beach under the moon’s reflection. That is simply divine! Being in/with nature beats technology, hands-down, in my book. So glad you had and enjoyed the “real life” experience.

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