Samantha Boardman M.D.

Positive Prescription

Are You Here? The Importance of Being Present

Digital connectivity has a price. It's vital to control when and how we pay it.

Posted Oct 01, 2015

Whenever I am trying to get some work done without any distraction, I place my phone face down on the desk and put it in silent mode. No pings, dings or vibrations to notify me of incoming messages, emails or calls.

It turns out that this strategy is not as effective as I thought it was. Studies show that a visible cellphone decreases attention and the ability to perform tasks. Just having the phone within view was taking a toll on my concentration – I now place it in a drawer.

In addition to undermining productivity, phones also undermine quality time with loved ones. A 2014 study, called “The IPhone effect,” demonstrated how the mere presence of a phone can ruin a conversation:

In an experiment with 200 participants, researchers found that simply placing a mobile communication device on the table or having participants hold it in their hand was a detriment to their conversations. Any time the phone was visible, the quality of conversation was rated as less fulfilling when compared to conversations that took place in the absence of mobile devices.

Family time is especially vulnerable. When children see their parents constantly on the phone, it sends a message about priorities. Dr. Steiner-Adair, author of The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age, recently commented about the impact of “half-there” parents at critical times of the day such as before and after school:

This should be a cell-free zone for everyone—no Bluetooth for parents or devices for kids. The pickup from school is a very important transitional time for kids, a time for them to download their day. Parents shouldn’t be saying, ‘Wait a minute, I have to finish this call.’

Make the choice to put your phone away when you are with another person, be it having dinner, driving somewhere, watching a movie, or going for a walk.

So, when it the best time to use your phone? When you are alone.

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