Compulsive phone-checking has become so normalized, itʼs easy to lose sight of what really matters.

 

The New York Review of Books, in a review of David Saxʼs The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter, quotes this poignant passage to describe how modern technology has turned us more inward:

 

Even if you were playing World of Warcraft or Call of Duty with the same group of friends around the world each day, talking smack over your headsets, and typing in snippets of conversations, you were ultimately alone in a room with a screen, and the loneliness washed over you like a wave when the game ended.1

 

Human contact is increasingly mediated by the screens on our desktop computers, tablet devices and—most of all—smartphones.

 

Smartphones have been with us for less than a decade and yet theyʼve had an astonishing impact on behavioral norms. Even during those times I set aside for loved ones, my phone exerts a silent, emotional pull, and makes a competing claim on my attention—kind of like a needy pet.

 

The myth of multitasking

Some studies have suggested that women are better at multitasking than men. I used to agree— mainly because it gave me an excuse to answer work calls while preparing dinner, and catch up on unanswered emails while attending work meetings.

 

But one day I realized how wrongheaded this was. The fact is, our brains are only able to focus on one intellectually demanding task at a time. Sure, you can blow dry your hair, listen to music or pet your cat while your real attention is elsewhere. But these tasks are automatic and donʼt require any focused attention or intellectual bandwidth. Multitasking is only possible if you take on a mindless task, like brushing your hair while youʼre on a conference call.

 

I remind myself of this every time I bring my smartphone into a boardroom—or dinner party. Surreptitiously scrolling through my “news” feeds even in snatches deprives those around me of the undivided attention they deserve from me. Worse, it sends the subtle message that I donʼt

value their time.

 

For me, an ideal restaurant dinner is one where friends throw their phones into a basket at the beginning of the meal—and the first one to check her phone foots the bill.

 

For those of us who are parents, discouraging phone usage among the younger generation— practically born with smartphones in their hands--is especially a challenge. But controlling your childrenʼs wifi passwords can give you tremendous leverage, enabling you to encourage your offspring to finish homework, or play a board game, or (for goodnessʼ sake) go play outside before being rewarded with the new wifi code. Just make sure that same teenager doesnʼt catch you scrolling through your newsfeed an hour after delivering an anti-Internet diatribe.

 

Become more mindful of your surroundings

Mindless smartphone usage can mean missing out on other things that make life meaningful. I saw a picture in the news recently showing a group of young people in an art gallery, more fixated on their handheld devices than the masterpiece hanging up behind them.

 

I doubt any of us want to become so focused on our phones we miss out on the world around us. My advice is to try switching off your phone for a whole Saturday and see how your stress levels improve. Sure, it may be uncomfortable at first, a sort of lost-limb feeling (but keep in mind that the worse it feels, the more likely you are addicted). If thatʼs too big an ask, start off with a ban on just work emails, or limit your detox to an afternoon instead of a whole day.

 

Then take a look at the living, breathing, beautiful real world that surrounds you—and the people close to you who will bask in your full attention.

 

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