Recently, during a very grueling spin class in New York City a woman pulled out and logged on to her IPad to check her email. The instructor was not happy and when he proceeded to shame her publicly (as she attempted to multitask her emailing while pedaling 109 RPM's uphill to Lady Gaga's Bad Romance playing in the background), the class unanimously broke out in applause.
Since I blog about our relationship with technology and rely on it to have my words read, I need my reading audience LOGGED ON to create the blog traffic to keep myself in the blogosphere. But this post is about empowering yourself to make conscious choices to LOG OFF and take a much needed time out from our digital lives. No matter how convenient and accessible technology has become, it is still our choice whether we remain tethered to it everywhere we go.
As toddlers, many of us had baby blankets, binkies or imaginary friends that we refused to part with under any circumstances. Pediatrician and Psychoanalyst, Donald Winnicot coined the phrase "transitional object" to describe the phenomenon of infants attaching to various objects (plush toys, blankets, etc.) that serve to provide comfort as they come to terms with their own individuality while confronting the anxiety caused by separation from their primary caretaker. This is a perfectly natural stage of development and for the most part, parents indulge our symbiotic relationships with our surrogates until we just grow out of it. Transitions are a normal part of our individuation and people of all ages will attach to something comfortable and familiar to provide security through these developmental transitions.
For those who struggle with separation and individuation, the transitional object becomes a hindrance to movement forward and the object becomes a liability. At some point the tattered fabric or the demanding imaginary friend are no longer cute or age-appropriate and need to be abandoned in the pursuit of healthy development.
Technological gadgets are our communal security blankets of the 21st century. Winnicot states in his book Playing and Reality, that "...... it is not so much the object used as the use of the object that we should consider today." The objects of our modern affection (IPads, IPhones, Blackberries, smart phones, etc.) are used often and everywhere impacting our face-to-face time with others and distracting us from being alone with ourselves. As a therapist, I have clients who are reluctant to LOG OFF even for their hour of therapy. Ironically, in a time where we can be always connected, we are increasingly more disconnected with one another.
Look around you at a restaurant tonight and just observe how many people are on their phones texting instead of talking with one another-this is especially profound when you see a couple at a romantic table for two holding their handhelds instead of holding hands. Pay attention at the movies, play or symphony at just how many sounds, beeps and buzzes coming from the people around you and not from the talent you have paid to entertain you. People cannot even use the toilet anymore without feeling the need to stay connected----it is called a "restroom" for a reason.
As a species, it's as if we feel we don't exist if we are not immediately accessible. This separation anxiety en masse is a regression of monumental proportions. Since tech gadgets are not going anywhere, we have to recognize our relationship with them is layered and rooted in more than just their logistical convenience. Ask yourself--do you need to have your gadget on to feel connected? Can you relax if you are not accessible?
As the holidays approach it is a wonderful time to disengage and take a vacation from technology to reconnect with yourself and your family and friends. Recently on the ABC sitcom Modern Family, one of the family units tried to eliminate technology all together in order to reconnect with one another. For many, it would be hard to imagine a Thanksgiving without a turkey, so I am not suggesting you go cold-turkey on technology, but with a few simple modifications to your dependence on your gadgets, you may find that you have a holiday season worth remembering.
So for the brave and fearless, here are some holiday suggestions for giving yourself a vacation from technology.
1.Host tech free dinner parties. Inform guests that gadgets are persona non grata. Hosts can offer a "tech check" where guests can check their gadgets at the door and claim them at the time of departure.
2. At home, establish "tech free time" where all gadgets must be turned off. Play games, engage in discussions, eat together, etc.
3. Make exercise a time to connect with yourself and leave the distractions and stress of your every day behind. Create motivating playlists with your favorite music to keep you focused and pumped during your workouts, but leave gadgets that connect you to the outside world, inside your locker. Gyms should be gadget free.
4. Implement a "tech curfew". Let your friends, family and co-workers know that at a certain time, you are no longer available. Establish that time and turn off your technology. Without chimes and reminders that you have mail, a text message and constant Facebook updates that pull for a response, you will claim a lot of extra time for yourself and perhaps reconnect with something called relaxation.
5. Tech charge time. Leave the house willingly without your gadgets and let them stay at home snug in their charging cradle. At first you may be uncomfortable with how naked you feel as you re-experience everyday activities without your phone, but after the initial shock you will be surprised at how liberating it is to NOT be accessible.
With the holiday season upon us, it is a great time to reconnect with family and enjoy some down time from work. Our Digital Self needs this respite too, so let's turn off our gadgets and tune into opportunities to be tech free-not all the time, but enough to feel the difference. Please feel free to offer some creative ideas on the comments thread for taking time away from tech and share your own triumphs and tribulations.