It is not a novel observation to note that we are all addicted to our Smartphones. There is an addiction spectrum or course; some of us are so hooked we can’t sleep without our phones cradled in our beds, it never gets turned off. Of those so hooked, the phone is like an extremity on their physical body. That phone never leaves their body, it is always either held in a hand or in a front/back pocket. That person is always aware of every friend’s social networking post and never misses one. Others of us check it about every hour, emails, texts and perhaps some social networking. The average person senses physical discomfort about every 15 minutes when she/he does not check their phone notifications. That sensation ceases once they check their phone; then the cycle continues. This does not relate to the 9% of people who don’t own a cell phone.
Researcher Sergey Golitsynskiy and his colleagues asked students around the world to go without their cell phones for 24 hours. “It ended up being the most horrible experience many of them had ever in their life”, according to what they self-reported. “The psychological impact was significant.” Seventy percent of them quit the experiment, saying they simply couldn’t do it. “They felt a tremendous amount of boredom. They were bored without it,” said Golitsynskly. “They felt emotionally detached from the rest of the world.” One American student reported: “I was itching, like a crackhead…” Someone in the U.K. said: “Media is my drug … I am an addict.” A student from China wrote: “I was almost freaking out.” And a person from Argentina reported: “Sometimes I felt ‘dead.'” Sounds like addiction to me.
MIT psychologist Sherry Turkle, author of Alone Together, studied hundreds of people, she agrees that we are more disconnected than ever. Turkle said “I studied families who are having breakfast together, and every member of the family is texting,… I studied funerals, and people are texting…a family is at the beach, and each person is on their phone.” The big summary is that we have lost the art of being present and verbal communication. This leads me to the perhaps novel solution I am leaning towards: a new type of housing development.
By now you’ve also heard of the Waldorf Schools, a philosophy of teaching that includes artistic and creative hand’s on activities and play which focuses on developing artistic expression and social capacities. Their overarching goal is to develop critical thinking and empathy towards others in a “morally responsible” manner. That all sounds good and most schools would not disagree; however, Waldorf schools do not allow cell phones of any kind and even ask families to unplug at home. The request is that families highly limit screen time and instead focus on reading, writing, math, science, music and art. We need long term research to show that those graduating from Waldorf are less addicted to their phones and hold more effective social skills, but how do we measure that?
So the novel thought is, let’s take the Waldorfian approach to housing developments. Let’s build communities where we are off the grid. It can be like prior to the 1990’s, leaving work at work, when we need the internet and texting and social networking, we go to the library or the office, or a cafe. Dinner are screen free eating times where we all converse, share ideas and experiences, not just YouTube videos. We might see less ADHD, less misplaced anger, and less depression (we all know about the data showing higher rates of depression among the highest users of Facebook). How many times have you walked your dog around your neighborhood but you can’t greet your neighbor because they are on their phone? With the above community that would not happen, think prior to cell phones when we greeted everyone who walked past us and/or noticed a tree budding or a butterfly floating past. If this all seems too unreasonable here comes another idea.
Vacation with your family off the grid. One of the best vacations we had with our teens was taking them to Cuba! We had such limited Wifi, often none at all, that we all we able to focus on all the sites. Spending time in different cities and on the beaches filled all our senses, not just the sights of images on a screen, aka No Instagram. From the depths of our souls we heard the rich music, the romantic language, dined in a mindful manner, made eye contact with the friendly locals and soaked up the architecture. Having all four of us present for ten days was priceless; the rewards were endless, we all have solid memories as we were engaged during the trip, not elsewhere in a virtual world. As a dear friend Shannon Heeb of 25 years shared “I am taking my kids to Haiti, off grid, to volunteer in a third world country…they are so preoccupied with sports, studies and social media devices.” This is the sentiment of many parents who want to get their kids away from distractions and refocus them on the meaning of life, not how many “likes” you got. So consider volunteer tourism in a third world country or some other experience that demonstrates another way to see the world.
As Michael Behar stated in his 5280 article: ”The more I went off the grid, the more time expanded while I was out there. Now, more than a decade later, the effect is as strong as ever. When I’m camping with my family, backpacking with my son, or dayhiking with friends, time should fly because, as they say, I’m having fun. But it doesn’t. Instead, it’s precisely the opposite—the minutes and hours feel mysteriously slow. The sensation is seductive; time is a commodity, and I feel as if I am somehow getting extra for free.” Let’s all feel seduced by being so present.
Belina N. Fruitman, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Certified Additions Counselor lll, owner of A Woman’s Way to Recovery in Denver, former Adjunct Professor of Social Work at Metropolitan State University of Denver.