Web Extra: Put down the phone

In our current “20 Ways to Change Your Life” feature, we suggested taking time each week (or day) to unplug from technology. We interviewed licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Alison Tarlow on why it is important to take a break from your iPhones and iPads and notice the people around you.

How would you describe society’s current relationship with technology?

Society’s current relationship with technology borders on the obsession– many people eagerly await the latest version of a cell phone or PDA, and want to keep up with the latest programs to keep us connected with each other.

For some, it is difficult to ‘pull away’ from the social media that is out there, and we become overly engaged in other people’s lives. Sometimes to the detriment of our own daily lives.

Does so much technology hurt, or help, face-to-face interactions?

It seems that many people prefer to text or e-mail, rather than have face-to-face, or even verbal conversations on the telephone.

For many, it is easier to relay messages through the written word, rather than actually having to say things to another person.  This is especially true for more uncomfortable or difficult conversations. We often have more courage to type a message than have to deliver it ‘in person’.

However, the problem lies in the translation.  It is easy to misread a written message. In a verbal message, we are able to decode the communication using important non-verbals, such as intonation or facial expression.  While there is a time and a place for the usefulness of email and text communications (less time-consuming, for example) it certainly should not become a replacement for how we, as human beings, interact with each other in our daily lives.

Why do you think people should “unplug”– as in, putting down their cell phones/computers/iPads?

When we unplug, we are allowing ourselves to tune back in to ourselves.  We are not so focused on ‘the other’, and can better understand our own wants and needs.

For example, being less wrapped up in our technological gadgets may allow us to recognize our own issues that need to be attended to.  Perhaps we have a spouse in need of some support or attention, or perhaps we could be spending more time with our children and their needs.  For some, the idea of unplugging feels scary– because it is giving up an addiction of sorts.

I would recommend one start by powering down for smaller amounts of time each day, and increasing those amounts of time.  Start with an hour, and increase it to two to three hours, or the evening.  For some individuals, removing themselves from technology for a few days at a time can provide a good amount of relief from work or social stress, and that in itself becomes a powerful intrinsic reward.

How could this simple change improve people’s attitudes/relationships? Do you feel taking a brief break from technology could reduce stress?

I believe that by taking brief breaks from technology, we can start to reconnect with the important people in our lives, our family and close friends, in more positive and healthy ways.

We are able to better express ourselves in person, and we build our relationships in more positive, genuine ways. We can relax, and not feel the pressure of having to always ‘tune in’ to see what is going on in our work and social lives. We can find the simple pleasures that we used to enjoy…reading a paperback book, snoozing on the couch, engaging in a meaningful one-on-one conversation with someone important in our lives.

How often have you wanted to talk to your spouse, child, friend, or co-worker, only to find they are only ‘half-listening’ because they are simultaneously sending a text to someone else?  That does not feel good!