Despite the upsets of late, the one personal constant has been my New Year's resolution. Each year, I resolve to foster deeper human connections. This commitment is reinforced every time I chat with thumb-tapping "cellcoholics" that would rather hold a phone than a decent conversation.
No wonder so many share this sentiment. In fact, a 2017 survey by StatisticBrain showed that 22.8 per cent of the 1,129 respondents held relationship-related resolutions. However, our tech dependency is a growing interference. Findings from the Pew Research Center show that 42 per cent of American couples reported being distracted by their phones, 18 per cent argued about time spent online, while eight per cent had direct conflicts over what partners did on the 'net.
These statistics support the "technoference" hypothesis. Picture the modern date: after a short bio, a selfie and a swipe right, one date meets another. Upon meeting, they get an Uber to the restaurant with the best Yelp reviews. The small talk breaks as the food arrives when it's captioned as #foodie on Instagram. After saying this grace, they talk about the newest binge-worthy Netflix show. To sound smart, they regurgitate headlines they scrolled past in their newsfeeds. Soon, they text their friends to deliver live commentary.
We're all due for a little digital detox.
As this example shows, we eat, sleep and breathe technology. It's our most intimate partner. It follows us to the dining table, the bed, the office, even the washroom. This dependency severely hurts relationships.
According to researchers from Baylor University, "phone snubbing" or "phubbing" creates conflict that may lead to lower relationship satisfaction. In fact, phubbing sets a slippery slope of lower life satisfaction and depression.
This is perpetuated by the following no-win situation: In a relationship, not posting about your significant other or constantly checking your notifications may both express disinterest. After all, we live in a world where relationships don't count until they're "Facebook official." Obviously, the solution is not to head for the hills or declare your love from the highest hilltops of the interwebs. However, some self-awareness is in order. We're all due for a little digital detox.
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Dr. David Greenfield, a psychiatry professor at the University of Connecticut and the founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, might have an initial solution. Greenfield's quick quiz called the Smartphone Compulsion Test exposes the extent of our tech dependency.
Together, we can choose to prioritize human connections over virtual ones this coming year. Here are three concrete steps.
1. Designate internet-free zones
Wherever we go, we are connected because of our smartphones. "What's your WiFi password?" has become a customary greeting when visiting new places. To avoid these issues, couples should agree on places and times when smartphones, tablets and watches should be set aside. During this time, the aim should be to share quality time without any technoference.
2. Turn off push notifications
Smart devices can track our steps, calories, hours of sleep, friends, dates and locations. The apps can bombard us with notifications. This creates reward-seeking behaviour as we get stuck in a dopamine loop. We start craving the rush of contentment and happiness that dopamine brings, a neurotransmitter that is released during certain human actions like exercise, or setting and achieving goals. For this reason, we should do away with the cues so we less tempted.
3. Discuss reasonable expectations
We cannot treat this resolution like the majority that fail. Habit formation takes time and revealing your intention to digitally detox can be rewarding in of itself. So be careful about declaring your resolution to the public. Also, it's crucial to maintain reasonable expectations. The aim should be to set technology-free zones and times during key moments. For instance, removing technoference when sharing a meal, getting ready for bed or travelling together can leave space for meaningful and nourishing human intimacy.
Remember, don't wag your finger every time your partner taps their thumbs. We need to be strategic and patient. Only then can we choose to connect with humans instead of WiFi.
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