Do you remember life before smartphones?
A time when you weren’t constantly connected through email, text messaging or social media? When you went on vacation or left the office at 5PM, and didn’t do any work until you returned?
I wanted to remember what it was like to really have a break. So, on a recent vacation to South Beach, I made an agreement with my boyfriend to truly disconnect.
For five days, we’d switch our cell phones into airplane mode, using them only to take pictures. No phone calls, emails, texting, Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp or news reader apps. I knew this would be a challenge, but I also knew it was necessary:
- TIME’s Mobility Poll found evidence that mobile devices interfered with relationships: 30% of users in the US, 50% of users in Brazil and 60% of users in China felt their device came between them and their spouse
- 92% of lawyers have seen an increase in smartphone data being submitted as evidence in divorce cases, according to the American Academy of Matrimony Lawyers.
- A recent Harvard Business School study found that 51% of managers and professionals check their phone constantly during a vacation.
- Considering smartphone users between the ages of 18-34, Lookout’s Mobile Mindset Study found that 68% check their phone at least once per hour.
- 74% check in while lying in bed.
- 32% check in while driving.
- 51% check in while using the bathroom!
- Huffington Post reported the results of a HealthDay study, showing that smartphones can increase stress: “The stress gets so bad for some users that they actually begin to feel phantom vibrations, thinking their phone is buzzing when it isn’t.”
The result? It was wonderful. It reminded me of when we had first started dating: we were having real conversations and really listening to each other, free from the distraction of notifications. It made me wonder why it’s expected that you put your phone away on a date during the early stages of a relationship; but later on, most people allow life to get in the way and lose that sense of respect.
We weren’t perfect. He texted his dad to check on our dog and Google mapped directions to our hotel. I read review sites to find the best nightclubs. Two days in, I even logged in to Twitter for an Adecco USA Twitter chat with u30Pro to talk about Millennial job search and interview tips and Adecco’s Way to Work Program. Still, because it was an exception, I found myself really enjoying the conversation, rather than feeling frustrated about working during my vacation.
I felt a little uncomfortable at first: you don’t feel alone when you’re at a restaurant with your smartphone. I realized that half the time, I didn’t really need to be on my phone – it had become a go-to habit to fidget with my cell, likely because it made me feel like a “busy professional having a quick lunch” rather than a “woman with no friends eating alone”. After the first few days, that feeling subsided: no one was actually staring at me, and I found myself noticing things I would have missed if I had been distracted by my phone.
At times, I felt a bit guilty and found myself checking my inbox “just in case” a crisis had ensued. I found that I was really putting the pressure to stay connected on myself: my extremely capable team was managing just fine without me. Although we often make them out to be, most things aren’t urgent; and people respected my “real” vacation more than I had expected them to.
I started thinking about the idea of being addicted to your smartphone when Ed Blust, Adecco Group North America’s Chief Marketing Officer, tweeted a link to an article called “Reignite Your Passion at Work in 5 Simple Steps“. I found myself nodding my head in agreement as I considered the following statement: “In our always on, hyper-connected 24/7, busy culture our work can quickly consume us and our time. To fully recharge and be ready to engage at work, take one day off each week. No email. No folding laundry. No work related reading. Just let your mind and body rest.” The article suggested that we should take one day off to really rest. When I tried this the first time and found it nearly impossible, I decided to take it a step further.
Over the past few years, I had noticed that I wasn’t the only one who felt the need to stay in touch:
- I witnessed managers checking email or answering phone calls during employee’s performance reviews, which were usually the only “formal” hour devoted to providing feedback each year.
- I saw men and women typing furiously on iPads and dialing into conference calls from hospital waiting rooms (and although I hate to admit it, I was one of them).
- I walked by groups of teenage girls at coffee shops, engrossed in their phones and oblivious to each other.
- In my MBA courses, classmates spent entire lectures responding to emails or texting, ignoring the professor.
It seemed that airplanes were the one safe haven to disconnect without apologies. Then, Delta launched Gogo In Flight on domestic flights and Lufthansa followed suit with FlyNet on transatlantic flights to Europe. I watched exhausted business travelers stay awake through red eye flights, surrounded by chargers for their slew of devices.
Smartphones are a reality of today’s world; and in many cases, they increase our productivity; so I’m not suggesting that we should revert to the way life was ten years ago. If you’re looking for a job, it might be necessary to be available to field calls from recruiters or hiring managers. I also realize that disconnecting may be easier for me, working on marketing and information management projects, than it would be for a doctor dealing with a life-or-death situation, or a lawyer fielding a call from a client in jail at 3AM.
Yet, I feel that we all have some degree of choice over how connected we choose to be; and that everyone deserves a true break now and then. It’s amazing how things change when we step away from our devices and decide to really experience a moment.
The most important thing to recognize? Being there physically doesn’t automatically translate to being truly present. If you’ve forgotten the difference, maybe it’s time for a detox.
How do you detox from today’s expectation’s of being on your phone constantly?