Disconnected in a Connected World

I am sat at the back of the lecture hall staring down at the man waving his hand around the projector screen rambling on about something, JK I am actually paying no attention to him whatsoever and instead, staring down at my phone screen just like everyone else in the room. I am just as guilty when it comes to getting distracted by my phone, especially in lecture halls, I sometimes even ignore the lecture completely which I regret terribly after both for my ignorance and for the notes I will never get a second opportunity to jot down. 

I sometimes convince myself that I can do both, use my phone, and listen to the lecture at the same time, but when I look at the lecture slides at home I realise I barely recall any of the lecture at all. I recently listened to a podcast which discussed the research behind multi-tasking. The research suggests the ability to focus on two things at once is not possible and instead, multi-tasking is simply the action of switching our attention from one thing to another continuously. Those who are considered good multi-taskers are just able to switch their attention more rapidly. So when we are switching our attention from one thing to another, we are not taking in as much information as we could be if we were to just pay our full attention to the one priority task.

My lecturer once told the class that we treat our phones a lot like babies, we give it lots of attention and make sure it’s always in sight etc. He noted that If we are not using our phone then we are immersed in thoughts of what may currently be happening on our phone, e.g., by wondering whether “…” has texted back; we’re just itching to get back on our devices. And (especially in my case) he is right, we are desperately craving the dopamine kick. We barely know what true boredom feels like anymore, neither do we want to know. Social media platforms are designed to hold our attention for as long as possible, they know what content each individual user prefers and so they keep throwing more of it at them, it’s no wonder it’s so difficult to close the Facebook news feed. 

Obviously it is not our fault that we are so addicted to these social media platforms; we are biologically programmed to be social. We learned that we survive better as social beings. My issue is that technology and social media have made me feel disconnected from the world. If I am not checking my phone then I am wondering what is going on inside the social media world, and this distracts me from the real world. I feel mindless rather than mindful, I feel like my conscience is living inside social media rather than within the real world. I feel like I am taking time spent with friends and family for granted as I am repeatedly not providing them with my full attention, even when I am not looking at my phone screen.

I was actually speaking to an old man on the bus one day, well either that or I overheard the conversation, I can’t quite remember. But what he said has repeatedly occupied my mind ever since. At first, he made small talk with some of us students on the bus, but after that he decided to openly point out his observations of our behaviour. He commented on the way we hid behind our phone screens, almost like it was a shield from the outside world. I remember he assumed we must have thought he was quite strange for not keeping to himself like everyone else. And he had a point, today it seems to me that it has become less socially acceptable to communicate with anyone you are not familiar with and more acceptable to stare down at your phone screen minding your own business, only conversing with anyone when is completely necessary. He mentioned how, many years ago, it was quite normal to speak to pretty much anyone in public, whereas today, a large amount of conversations seem to more often, take place at our fingertips. 

Ways I Have Been Trying to Change

I have been practicing a lot of mindfulness recently, especially “mindful conversations” because I believe it is so very important to give a real-life person your full attention when you can, especially when it is someone important to you. Mainly because I know how it feels to feel as though someone is not giving you their full attention. Nothing is more annoying to me than someone who pulls out their phone in the middle of a face-to-face conversation. This can even spark feelings of loneliness within me, as I feel unheard and as if I am not worth paying attention to. Research even proves that we give the least attention to the ones we love the most, resulting in the people we love actually devaluing themselves.

Recently, I stumbled upon an app called “Moment” which basically tracks how many hours per day you spend on you phone. I read once that the average students spends 6-8 hours a day on their phone, and unfortunately, it turns out I fit into this category clocking in an average of 6 hours a day on my phone. 

There is a free “bootcamp” on the app which claims that people on the course saved 13 hours and 13 minutes screen time over 7 days. I am not going to try it yet, reason being I am currently abroad and away from my usual social connections (I know…excuses, excuses!). So naturally, I am having a greater craving to keep in touch with them whilst away. Regardless, I am still going to try and cut down on screen-time as much as possible whilst I am here so I can make the most out of and be more mindful of those around me during my experience. 

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