Loneliness in the Digital Age
My father taught me to stand up straight, focus my eyes forward and make eye contact with other’s passing by, nod and say hello, basically, be polite. When we were out walking, he would often stop to chat about the weather or ask how someone was feeling, compliment them on their hairstyle or outfit, and wish them a nice day. These kinds of habits are still a part of me, and yet, these days I find it harder to meet anyone’s gaze. The information age and cell phone usage has hunched our shoulders, we have become stuck in a revolving door of notification and response, casting our eyes downward and not straight out.
How distracted are you by your device usage? Do you feel that if you are not looking at your phone you are perceived to not have a social life or be involved in important business? When riding the bus and looking out the window, do you see the sights pass by? Do you notice the person sitting next to you? What is your mood? What is your attitude? How deep is your breathing?
Many people I’ve spoken with feel alienated among their peers using cell phones in the midst of a social encounter. Studies show that when a cell phone is placed on the table during a meeting, people shorten their sentences, assuming they will be interrupted at any moment. Doesn’t this constant feeling of being undervalued cause problems? I’ve seen this happen so frequently now that I just had to write about it. The cell phone is warping our minds and hearts. Many people are more intimate with their cell phones than with their family and/or friends. I know we use it to connect, too. But, it can’t hurt to assess the relationship with your device.
So, here are some suggestions for bringing your attention somewhere else, try this and let me know how it goes:
- Put it away for several hours, maybe even a whole day and see what happens.
- Say hello to three people today when you are out and around town. Pocket your device, look them in the eye, stand up straight and genuinely wish them well.
- Take a digital message up a level, and ask to meet for a brief walk together.
- When driving, put it in your trunk and just drive. This could save your life or another’s.
- Write down the curiosities that drive you to use the phone. Post the list and visit it in a month. Were you able to live without satisfying those curiosities?
- If your device has a control method for screen-time, turn it on to limit your usage.
- When you meet with someone, ask that you both turn off your devices for the meeting and put them away. See if the quality of the interaction changes. Do you feel more valued? Are you able to provide more relaxed attention with your companion? How distracted are you to not have it by your side turned on for notices?
In my work with others who are dying, the things they recall as the most important memories in their lives were special interactions where they felt heard, they saw the glint of the sun light, felt the human touch of a hand, a hug, the warmth of that moment stayed with them more than any other moments in their lives. My last suggestion is to imagine how you will remember your interactions when you are on your deathbed. Will you remember people’s faces, their smiles or tears? Or will the screen be your strongest memory?