Many would agree that the rapid deployment of Smart Phones in the early 2000's was both a blessing and a curse. We have all the information we could ever desire right at our fingertips. That's actually thee blessing AND the curse. As information and communication has become accessible at our fingertips, as a culture we have found ourselves more and more distracted from the relationships right in front of us.
Numerous parents have come to my office complaining about their children (even from early ages) being "obsessed" by devices. They are worried and fearful that their ability to create solid relationships with people in person will be stunted. After further exploration, what I often find is that many adults who are complaining about their child are actually modeling this exact distractible behavior. We have to own our parts as adults before we can tackle the challenges our children face.
Being on our phones garners all our attention. These devices have in some significant ways changed the ways we interact in our families, with friends and at work. For many, because our devices take up so much space in our lives, it limits the time we can take to really connect with those we care about. Any distraction between two people, whether it's a smartphone, or another person, limits the connection these two people can make. In addition, when we are focused on our phones, we tend to disengage with the reality and world around us.
There are simple tools to help create re-engagement one person at a time.
Sit down and ask what kind of relationships you want with your friends and family. This may sound simple, but the majority of people don't really think about what they want yet this is the first step to setting a trajectory towards creating that reality.
Mornings and Evenings. Consider creating down time in the family. When will you put your phone away in the evening, and when will you first pick it up in the morning. Creating conscious habits within the family will create healthy relationships with technology. Many families will not allow devices at the dinner table. Everyone sits down device free for 30 minutes and talks. This is a productive way to reconnect at the end of a day and re-establish the importance of face to face connection.
Devices negatively impact sleep cycles or circadian rhythm. Poor sleep creates a multitude of emotional/ psychological challenges. Having rituals of plugging our phones in at least an hour before bed outside of the bedroom allows that space to become one of connection and relaxation. An opportunity to reflect on the day and process life.
Phones remain put away when you are socializing with a friend. Whether it's sitting at a cafe or having a quick lunch, the phone remains invisible. Often you will see phones sitting on tables when people are congregating. This is a subliminal cue (even if turned upside down) that the phone has your attention. Put it away and see if it changes or deepens3 the connection you have.
With kids who may already be habitually in relationship with their devices, consider creating an experimental month where these ideas are put into place and they can consider how they feel. Trying something new and just noticing the results, even if everyone returns to their previous habits, can plant seeds for future choices.
Whatever you decide, continue to recognize the power of these devices and how they have become part of your relationships. Although they hold great psychological power over us in many ways, we still have decision making capability. And we can use that!