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.
Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America has sponsored Ask the Expert posts for informational purposes only. Many of the experts are unaffiliated with Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America, College Retirement Equities Fund, and their affiliates and subsidiaries (collectively TIAA), and TIAA makes no representations regarding the accuracy or completeness of any information on the posts or otherwise made available by the experts. Statements of external featured experts are solely their own and are not endorsed or recommended by TIAA.
Responses from experts to questions posed by Woman2Woman community members are intentionally general in nature and are not intended to give personal, financial, or specific advice. Some strategies are complex, and more information is often needed to determine the personal needs of a community member. We strongly recommend that you consult with a financial advisor before taking any action based on an expertʼs opinion or other information you obtain from the Woman2Woman:Financial Living site so that all of your personal circumstances can be taken into consideration. Participation in the site does not render the member a client of the expert or of TIAA.
This site is not designed to accept or respond to requests or complaints regarding specific TIAA accounts, products or services. If you wish to discuss an issue of that nature, please contact TIAA at 800-842-2252. TIAA is not responsible for any opinions provided by members of this site. TIAA is not responsible for the content or privacy policies of third-party sites to which you may link.
Any tax information provided is not intended to be used, and cannot be used, to avoid possible tax penalties. It was written to promote the products and services discussed. TIAA and its representatives do not offer tax or legal advice. You should consult an independent tax or legal advisor for advice based on your own particular circumstances.
The material is for informational purposes only and should not be regarded as a recommendation or an offer to buy or sell any product or service to which this information may relate. Certain products and services may not be available to all entities or persons.
Investment, insurance and annuity products are not FDIC insured, are not bank guaranteed, are not deposits, are not insured by any federal government agency, are not a condition to any banking service or activity, and may lose value.
Experts may not have medical or scientific training. Any information related to physical or emotional health is not intended to be used in place of a consultation with a physician.
TIAA is not responsible for the statements of community members. We may link to posts made by community members only to direct you to topics that may be of interest to you. This does not mean that we agree with the opinions of these community members. Their statements are solely their own and are not endorsed or recommended by TIAA.
TIAA-CREF Individual & Institutional Services, LLC, Teachers Personal Investors Services, Inc., and Nuveen Securities, LLC, Members FINRA and SIPC, distribute securities products.
© 2017 and prior years, Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America-College Retirement Equities Fund, New York, NY 10017