Do you ever question just how much one-on-one, in-person contact you now have in your life since the induction and growth of technology? Or have you been seduced by this age of instant gratification and ease at which we can now communicate with others, anywhere in the world, all while scrolling and typing on our phones and tablets, and are unaware of its effect in your interpersonal relationships?
Psychologists tell us that to establish a healthy sense of connection in our day to day lives we require eighty percent eye contact with others. However, with the ability to email, text, and tweet at home, at work, while walking on the street, or engaging in just about any other activity, we have reduced our daily dose of eye contact with family, friends, coworkers, and even strangers to a mere twenty percent. We are moving away from more meaningful, in-person relations, and our escape into the internet is not creating an environment for much needed, healthy interactions with others. As a result there has been an increase in mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression. Is the internet helping those who are lonely, or are we creating a feeding ground for even more loneliness?
Now that we are all familiar with technology and all the conveniences it offers, isn’t it time that we decide that the novelty needs to wear off, and we start seeking more balance? Isn’t it time to put our phones down a whole lot more and begin to re-engage, in person with one another?
I recently went away on vacation with my husband and our two adult sons. We flew to Morocco, and stayed in a Medina, a walled city, a place of so much culture and colour, a vibrancy and flurry of daily market activity, and a whole lot of stimulus that kept us needing to lean on each other and remain cautious and aware of our surroundings at all times. There was no walking through the markets and the center square while texting, checking emails, or scrolling through social media on our cell phones. If we did, we risked being run over by a bicycle, moped, car, donkey and cart, or horse, or you would walk smack into the many vendors and tourists. To say that the Medina was a crowded and busy place would be an understatement. It was madness at times. And while we travelled through these areas, we learned to both enjoy the sights and remain on high alert. We toured outside of the markets, as well. We hiked up a steep incline and across water through the Oureka valley and waterfalls, with our guide. This also required care and focus. We participated in a cooking class. And we had a sunset camel ride through the Palm Groves. There was no wifi, there was no time for checking messages on the internet. We were on an adventure, and I have never felt closer to my family. It was an amazing time for re-connecting and bonding with each other. The time for connecting on the internet was done in the evenings or early morning when we each took a break to be alone and recharge. That seemed to be enough.
Unfortunately, I became very ill during the trip, and I had to stop touring, I had to rest, I had to stay close to a toilet for several days. During some of this this time we left the Medina and stayed in an apartment in the city of Casablanca. There was no wifi available in this vacation rental. I didn’t want my husband and sons to stop enjoying the sights of Morocco, so I encouraged them to go out, while I remained in bed. At this point I had to start using my phone’s travel data plan. My husband needed to be able to check on me wherever he could connect to wifi, and I was feeling very afraid, alone, and isolated. I began to message a few select friends back home, in between sleeping and running to the bathroom, to inform them how sick I was and to ask for prayers and positive energy sent my way so that I could travel home and seek medical attention. I did not want to check into a hospital in a foreign country if I could prevent it. I needed the global connection, I needed support from friends, I needed my cell phone for this. It was the only connection I had while alone, ill, and feeling so vulnerable in that apartment.
I did eventually make it home to Canada. I was put in isolation in the hospital emergency room, I was cared for, and I was so grateful for our medical system. I returned to my home to recover, and I continued to check in with friends on my phone, I scrolled through Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, I checked emails and texts. I became obsessed with the need to be on the internet, in any capacity. Recovery becomes a little dull and lonely, especially when you cannot leave your home or have visitors in. Boredom and isolation create a breeding ground for the need to stay connected outside of your home’s walls. I was now in a more dangerous territory with my need for personal connection, my need to fill a lot of empty time. After days of logging hours of time on the web, I started to realize that I was now becoming engrossed in other people’s problems that they were posting about, I was reading the news, a negative experience I generally try to avoid, I was seeking posts on support group sites that I could offer advice on, and I was no longer focusing on getting better or on my own personal health issue. I was too focused on others and it wasn’t making me feel better. I was becoming addicted to my phone, and it was not creating a good environment for recovery. I had to stop. And I did. For a few days, I disconnected. I started reading a book, I found movies to watch, and I sat outside and enjoyed some sunshine and listened to the birds singing. I felt better. I felt free to focus on my own needs. And during this time I began to think about my own son, who is a recovering video gaming addict. And I suddenly understood how he became addicted so easily during those lonely, isolated, anxiety-filled years when he felt awkward and ostracized at school. I recognized his need for connection and to feel valued and accepted by his online friends, but I also saw evidence of how unhealthy and dangerous a solution that was. It became evident why he completely checked out, stopped grooming, ate very little, and became more depressed. That time spent in a room, alone while looking for virtual connections created more emptiness than it did fulfillment. These were faceless friends, seen in their video on-screen characters only. There was absolutely no eye contact, a huge missing element in his daily activity. I had only experienced a small sample of this, and was already feeling worse about myself than better.
I took a good, hard look at my overall use of the internet and have made some changes. I now no longer take my cell phone to my bedroom and use it as an alarm. I bought a bedside alarm clock. I noticed that instead of reading before bed, as I had always done, I was scrolling on my phone, and staying up much later than normal, and having difficulty going to sleep. I am now reading a book again instead. I was on my phone screen immediately upon waking. Sometimes I took the phone with me to use the bathroom. Now, I have breakfast first. I checked my messages far too often during the day. I am now monitoring how much time I spend on my phone, and am looking to balance that with more time that I could be spending with friends and family, in person. I want to write a second book, and I kept telling myself I just didn’t have time. Now I know, I was just wasting so much of it scrolling through endless posts on social media, looking for one good story. I have put myself on a daily schedule again, with a to do list that includes shorter spurts of time to check messages on my cell phone.
The time I spent with my family on our vacation was a great lesson in showing me how much more in-person time we need to spend together. But the unhealthy addiction to my phone was a wake-up call, and provided me an understanding of how easy the internet has provided an excuse for the world to stop creating more opportunities for eye contact and meaningful connections away from the world wide web, and instead escape from seeing others.
I challenge you to take a look at your own daily internet use, and find spaces where you can make some healthy changes, put away your phone and/or your tablet, and see how much interpersonal eye contact you can start making again with those around you.