The old adage “news travels fast” could not be more relevant today. Now, news is constant—you might still watch it at 11 p.m. on your local channel, but there’s no need to wait because it is coming at you over the internet and the cell phone 24/7. Don’t like the news? Well, there are more posts, memes, and Snapchats than one person can possibly read, even if they did nothing else, and gave up eating and sleeping in order to do so.
And consuming electronics couldn’t be easier, thanks to the cultural propensity for multi-tasking. While you’re binge-watching your favorite shows, you can be in constant communication with others who are reading and responding.
No longer does anyone need to sit around “waiting for the phone to ring” as in the olden days; the constant pinging of the cell phone reminds you that there are people who need your attention at all times, on all topics.
It’s nice to be connected. Children can travel to a foreign country and Facetime their parents each night so the parents know they are safe and sound. Grandparents who live far away can stay connected to their loved ones. “Honey, please stop for some milk on the way home” does not take several phone calls; to connect, a simple text will get the milk home for you. Technology has brought us closer together in many ways. If you have a message to share, you can blog, tweet, and otherwise get your message out quickly and easily to a waiting audience. The ability to rally a cause, bring people together, and share some news is one of the positive outcomes.
Unfortunately, research shows that this constant connectivity to technology is bad for your mental health. According to the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, “Extreme use of technology can disrupt normal patterns of mood and socialization in teens," leading to depression and sometimes suicide. And it’s no better for adults, and for the older generation, who are using mostly Facebook; it turns out that seeing all of the great things your peers are doing also leads to depression.
But how do you disconnect when the entire world is connected? What if you miss some important text, or call, or post that could be life-changing? How do you pull back when everyone else seems to be enjoying the electronic party?
You don’t have to go cold turkey and you don’t have to jettison the electronics, but deliberately disconnecting for a period of time, even several times a week, might well be a key to greater happiness and contentment. After all, if you are always consuming someone else’s thoughts and ideas, it’s harder to find the mental space to have some of your own. If you are always reading about the negative events unfolding around you, you might neglect to focus on what’s good and beautiful.
If you are finding that connectivity is making you too connected to everything except your own inner voice, try going on a media and technology diet for one week. Start small: Choose an hour a couple of times a day you refuse to look at your phone, the television, the computer, or any other device. Have a plan for what you’ll do during that time:
- Meditate or pray
- Take a walk (without your phone)
- Make a phone call to someone without multi-tasking really listen to the other person
- Engage in a hobby without your phone nearby, or the television on
- Prepare a meal without the television on, or your phone nearby
- Make a cup of tea, sit at the table, and be conscious while you drink it
Rather than fill the time with a hardcore physical activity (like exercise), try and do something that keeps you present and centered. Exercise is great too, but this “diet” is more about getting in touch with your own inner voice, noticing what’s around you, and practicing being present.
Be deliberate about this. The world really will keep spinning while you are disconnected, and all of those memes, top news stories of the day, and posts will be waiting for you when you return.
You might find it very hard. Technology is an addiction, like any other, and when you start to give it up, it will call to you to come back. If you can successfully do an hour for a couple of days a week, start to extend this to an hour or more a day.