I have a problem with my smartphone.
No, nothing's wrong with my phone -- it's become obvious something is wrong with me. I fill the awkward silences in line at the grocery store, out for dinner with friends, and even in work meetings by scrolling through my Instagram feed. I have a problem and I know I'm not alone.
With Valentine's Day -- a day meant for connecting with the ones you love -- approaching, it's time to disconnect. Well, guess what? There's an app for that.
Unplug is an app with a very simple premise: check in to check out. Devon Ash, a Vancouver-based social entrepreneur, says his hometown's digital dependency inspired his latest venture.
"I was out to brunch with friends in Vancouver, I looked up from my plate and the entire table had their head down in their phones," he says. "I felt totally alone at a table filled with friends. Later that week I was at a dinner in San Francisco with a large group of people I knew loosely through business and I asked the group if they would be ok turning off their phones for the full meal.
"They agreed and we had the most amazingly engaging conversation. I wanted to be able to create something that formally invited people to have that experience."
In the words of Alanis Morissette, "isn't it ironic?" that you need your phone to remind you to turn off your phone? Ash says, "Ironic? Yes. Sadly, necessary? Yes."
Looking for a way to curb my own smartphone issue, I sat down with the him to learn more.
How does the app work?
"It is based on a fairly simple Facebook check in system which allows you to select an amount of time to unplug, tag a few friends you are with in hopes that they will also unplug, mention where you are, and take one last photo to memorialize the moment," Ash says. "Then -- beeeeeooop, 'unplug.'
"The app comes at a time when we spend too many hours on 'facadebook,' presenting a version of ourselves that is totally ungrounded in reality. We have so many shallow friendships and so few deep relationships. When we are out with people, this is when we need to unplug and really invest in the people we are with."
Why is the concept of unplugging important to relationships? Romantic relationships require quality time to form deep bonds. When one person is more focused on their phone then their partner, it sends a clear message. If both are focused on their phones the message may not be clear, but over time the relationship will dissolve based on a lack of shared experiences.
It's great to unplug at the beginning of the meal and hold out until the bill comes before you plug back in. Or you can stay unplugged and make a stop somewhere else for dessert then plug back in after that. Or if you really want to connect with your partner, stay unplugged until after breakfast.
You can make a game of it: whoever plugs back in first has to buy the next treat. Fact is, the longer you stay unplugged, the deeper you will be able to go with them. Don't give yourself the easy out of retreating into your phone if things get uncomfortable. Push through and really become vulnerable with your partner -- that is where the magic happens.
How will you unplug this Valentine's Day? What are your favourite romantic activities to do around Vancouver? Sound off in the comments below.