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“Please turn off all electronic devices…”
Author: Jeremy Herring
March 1st 2013 -

We’re all familiar with this snippet of the airline safety briefing; and given the amount of scrutiny, aggravation and inconvenience travelers must endure in this day and age, common sense would suggest that this should probably be lowest on the list of personal injustices. Ironically though, it seems like the combativeness of passengers over the flight crew’s demand to discontinue using their portable electronic devices for 30-45 minutes is at least in the top two most prolific issues which routinely make headlines.

Of course it’s not just air travel where our ‘always-connected’ obsession emerges… and it’s not only in the younger generations that this bad habit is exhibited despite anecdotal evidence. Cell phones and mobile internet have revolutionized our daily lives in so many ways and so quickly that we’re often left struggling to cope with the unintended consequences it leaves in its wake. Many families have found that they must set aside specific times of the day in which the phones are turned off in order to prevent the constant distraction and really interact with each other face to face. Some have expanded this policy to weekends or at least one weekend a month to refocus on family relationship-building. Friends and coworkers are also often peeved by the poor interpersonal habits of those who think nothing of ‘checking out’ of a conversation in order to check their phone or respond to an instant message – the very act which nonverbally communicates to others that they are less important than an impersonal conversation or the latest internet meme.

So what is the solution? Well, banning all portable electronics is probably out of the question. I think our national economy would collapse inside of a week without the constant consumption of iPhones and tablets. And it’s a little like throwing the baby out with the bathwater when we ban something in response to its negative aspects without considering the many positive aspects it offers. Like any addiction, the key is to be realistic in your goals:

Step 1: Turn off cell phones, tablets, computers, televisions, etc. when you go to bed. Don’t turn them back on until you get up in the morning… that means no late night checking for messages!

Step 2: Set aside a family hour at least a couple of evening a week, maybe the dinner hour. No phones, tablets or television. Actually talk to one another, find out what’s going on in each other’s life, how was one another’s day, etc. Studies have shown that many children feel neglected by parents who cannot tear themselves away from their personal devices… so the knife cuts both ways.

Step 3: Begin to practice personal restraint in public. Turn off the phone or set it on mute and pay attention at shows, sporting events and meetings. Only reach for it during breaks or at the conclusion of the event. The same goes for driving – fortunately, many states are already addressing this with laws to penalize texting while driving or requiring hands-free phone calls.

Step 4: Begin to practice good manners with others. Pay attention to someone who is talking to you and not half-listen while looking down at your phone. Set the phone on mute or turn it off so that the notifications don’t keep interrupting the conversation. If it is absolutely necessary to reply to something, ask permission from the other person first.

Step 5: Set a trend when dining out. Have everyone at the table silence their phones and stack them face-down in the middle of the table. The first person who cracks and has to reach for their phone must pick up the check. I’ve often said that if I were to open a restaurant I would construct it with cell-signal-blocking technology so that patrons can dine in peace and talk to each other!

Step 6: When you go on vacation, this includes a vacation from the technology. Many people use their cell phones as cameras so go ahead and carry one or two with you (this also is important for safety reasons) but leave the laptops, tablets and games at home or in the car. You’re there to see new sights and connect through shared experiences. Uploading pictures and posting should be reserved for the end of the day as a recap of the day’s activities but avoid doing this the second after something happens and possibly missing what comes next.

Step 7: Don’t be afraid to talk! While email and text is convenient, discreet and provides the freedom to respond at your convenience, there’s more expediency and interpersonal connection in a phone call than a drawn-out text conversation. You can say a lot more and more effectively with your voice than with your texts.

Now, the first thing you’re going to experience is a sense of loss. I know for my own part that I get a strange tingling sensation in my leg because there’s no constant vibration from my phone notifying me of some friend’s latest post. Your experience may be different. Some people have a profound self-identity crisis because they have to consider their own existence independent of the constant feedback from others. Other people find themselves with a feeling of losing something or forgetting something because the habit to grab the phone on the way out the door or even out of a room is instinctual. Many will find that they are just plain bored because they will experience moments when there is no interaction, no demand for their attention. It’s a scary thing to have to think about something not triggered by external stimuli!

Why should we address our digital addiction? Good question. Firstly, we have become a society which has lost the ability to communicate any other way. We often dread speaking to someone on the phone, preferring instead the insulation and anonymity that texting or email provides. We’ve also developed a bad attitude when we’re forced to communicate with someone in the manner not of our choosing. In short, we’ve become impossible to deal with! Second, digital communication is impersonal – it lacks the context, the nuance and the humanity of hearing someone’s voice or looking them in the eye. Third, it helps to shatter the narcissistic self-appeal to which we have become addicted. In terms of our digital devices, it all revolves around us – the customization, the news and friend feeds, the preferences – there’s nothing that feeds the ego more than having our entire lives pandered to and the technology has evolved to the point that our digital devices have become extensions of ourselves. Every text is like a little gift especially for us. Fourth, by removing the screen that is between us, we have the opportunity to refocus on building the kind of trust and intimacy in our interpersonal relationships that we as humans are supposed to maintain and nurture.

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