It is no secret that our habits, whether at work or leisure, have been transformed overnight with the arrival of the smartphone. We are all guilty at one time or another of spending more time interacting with our smartphone than with people. It’s no longer just the younger generation that is glued to phones but our generation as well. In the olden days, while waiting for a meeting or at a restaurant or the airport, we used to read books - at least the magazines on the table. Now we check our phones; we Facebook, Tweet, text, play games or read on our phones.
Damaging smartphone habits
Smartphones are great and enable us to work seamlessly. We can email on the move, text and do just about (almost) everything that we do on our computers. But being consumed and totally taken up by our smartphones in a social context can be bad. We need to be mindful that spending time with the phone can become a habit that’s hard to break. And before long, we have become anti-social creatures, who crave the company of none.
In 2009, billionaire businessman Tom Golisano was so put off by the phone habits of New York Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, that it is said Golisano engineered Smith’s eventual ouster. The reason? At a meeting between the two, Smith spent more time on his Blackberry than talking and interacting with Golisano. The businessman later told the media that talking to Smith had been like talking to a wall.
Most of us do not realize how damaging smartphone habits can be. We need to be able to control our interactions with technology rather than allowing technology to control us. It must be a deliberate move on our part and can be done if we put ourselves to it. We need to be mindful of the time spent checking our phones when in social company – this is especially relevant during the time we spend with our families.Using smartphones, for some, enhances their ability to multi-task. But there are times when it can go wrong when we choose to read detailed emails off our phones – it can result in not being able to grasp and understand the context and not allowing a detailed response.
It is also dangerous, although for some it goes with the career, to stay connected 24/7 via the smartphones or the tabs - dangerous to health and relationships alike. We have to unlearn this bad habit and allow ourselves sometime to switch off - if not the phone, then at least ourselves.
Teach art of conversation
Staying tuned on the smartphones may also be distracting us from the real issues. Problem-solving skills, brainstorming, strategic planning, all of it used to be tasks that called for us to sit and think. All too often, we find ourselves tempted to check status or check mail on the smart devices we carry everywhere we go. It is not uncommon to find people who take their smartphones to the loo with them. Most are totally consumed by it – the look on their faces tells it all.
It is not difficult to spot just how much technology has got us wired – to our devices. Just watch families at dinner or the airport. Every member of the family will be wired to a device, instead of talking and connecting as individuals. Although it comes naturally to kids, it is up to us to initiate social interaction and teach them the art of conversation.
I remember reading online about children in the US, during the power outages resulting from the storms hitting New York, didn’t know what to say to each other or talk to each other when their devices were drained of power and they (the devices) could not be recharged.
In addition to inculcating the need to engage in social interactions in the next generation, it is imperative to remember that we must make an effort to manage devices in a manner that allows us to escape the grips of technology. When was the last time you watched a sunset live (not on YouTube)? When was the last time you sat down with a good book, not Kindle or iBooks? Or just watched the greenery around you, in a moment of silence?
Where to draw the line
We must be able to fit in those extra bits and pieces into our lives in order for us to function better and live better. Human beings did not engage in technology for thousands of years but still were able to live fulfilling lives; now that we do, we have to be able to continue to engage our spirits, our minds, our souls and ourselves in a manner that enables us to experience deep satisfaction inside – the kind that can only come from thriving inter-personal relationships, whether at work or home.
Sometimes it is good to walk away from all devices and just spend time doing the things we used to do before devices took over. Painting, reading, having tea with someone, going to the beach, actually visiting someone in person rather than on Facebook – these used to be the ways in which we relaxed and spend downtime. Those options still remain the best ways to unwind and enrich our lives.Technology is fine – smartphones and other devices are the modern marvels that empower us to get more done. Those who are house bound due to physical limitations find escape and social interaction via devices on Facebook and other social networking sites, which have become fantastic choices for them. Being able to share accomplishments, frustrations and achievements with friends instantly online is great too – we have to be able to know where to draw the line between technology and living life on real terms.Now that we have taken the plunge with our smartphones and devices, there is no turning back. We have to be able to make the kind of choices that allow us to take over our lives and lead those lives in meaningful ways outside of the devices.
(Nayomini Weerasooriya, a senior journalist, writer and a PR professional, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)