The average person spends three hours per day on his phone – that’s almost 20% of your waking hours! I love mobile devices and in many situations they do make me more productive, which means I can enjoy more of the things I appreciate in life. But I reckon that if you spend a fifth of your day engaged with your phone, any gain in productivity is surely being lost. These figures are only for smartphones, image how much more time if we include all electronic devices.
‘Everything with moderation’ says the old adage but when it comes to connectivity we can never have enough, we are constantly craving more. Our mobile devices are readily available and always have something new and stimulating to offer – the richness of the digital world is very engaging – it’s really hard to resist the temptation. Apple didn’t create a phone to spend the day in our bags. Smartphones were designed to be repeatedly used and we all fall for it – without giving much or any thought, we keep distracting ourselves with digital experiences, some say 221 times per day!
This hyper connectivity with bits and bytes is disconnecting us from ourselves and the physical world. We chat to our friends on the phone while watching YouTube videos or check our emails. Children in the playground swings scream out to parents totally absorbed by their phones. There is no limit, we are always on. I’m sure the digital richness of our lives is in many ways making us poorer. Science shows that the over use of technology is making our brains smaller and affecting our ability to pay attention. And as we continually focus our attention in the digital world there is little mental space left for reflection and learning about ourselves which limits our ability to develop self-awareness and self-regulation. Unable to regulate our impulses we become even more addicted to our digital devices. It’s a vicious cycle.
I’m particularly concerned with the digital natives, the children brought up in the digital age, as this hyper connectivity is the only reality they know. “No child should have to endure this suffering” my eldest declared when I didn’t let him bring his tablet in a recent car trip. My parents used to take four kids on three-hour car rides to the farm every week and we would play games, appreciate the small towns, people and nature. Mum and dad had to endure our bickering in the back seat and the “are we there yet?”. But being present to what was happening, the good, the bad and the boring, was part of the experience. These days it’s hard to find anyone willing to put up with the boring or unpleasant bits. We quickly inject a dose of mental stimulation to alleviate the pain of the present moment.
I love technology and am not advocating for anyone to retire their devices. I just think we should be more mindful of how and how much we use them. Do you really need to take your phone to the toilet with you? I once found an iPhone in the toilet, in the top of the toilet paper dispenser. We need to re-learn how to set limits and prioritise what really deserves our attention. When I notice my kids watching TV while playing with their tablets, I ask them to choose either one. If something isn’t worth our undivided attention, it’s not worth out attention at all.
Our devices should be used to enhance our lives, not detract from it. The digital experience is exciting but let’s not let it disengage us from the physical world and carry us away from a much richer experience that is real life.