Happy Independence Day!

This July, Declare Your Device Independence!

It’s one of the ironies of modern life that 24-hour connectivity has made us feel lonelier and more isolated than ever. Partly that’s because digital communications let us interact with others no matter where we are. We can live and work far from the ones we love and maintain our relationships via technology, perhaps only visiting our loved ones once or twice a year. The pandemic lockdown, however, showed us that this is not enough. Yes, digital communications are better than no communication at all. Nevertheless, they are limited, tending to be less nuanced and missing many of the cues of context, expression, and especially touch that accompany in-person communications. Recent studies are beginning to show that Zoom fatigue and cybersickness are even taking a physical toll on our bodies, as well as a mental, emotional, and social toll on our psyches and relationships.

Another isolating factor driven by our devices is on-demand delivery of goods and services. We no longer have to leave our homes because we can have everything delivered to our door or streamed to our laptops or phones. As a result, we no longer know our shopkeepers and service providers; we may not even know the neighbors who live next door!

And then there’s the 24-hour news cycle—again delivered directly to our devices and often announced with a notification alert so that we give it immediate attention no matter how inconsequential it may be.

All of this “connectivity” is impacting the increasingly rare time we spend in physical interactions with other people. How many times have you been in a conversation with someone who allowed an incoming text, email, or headline to interrupt your time together? Too often, we give people who may be hundreds of miles away and only tangentially related to us—if at all—to take priority over someone we know and value who is physically present with us! It has become a sad commentary on modern relationships that “closeness” can now be described by someone we are happy to lie in bed with while we each scroll our social media feeds.

A growing body of research is cataloging the negative effects of constant digital connectivity on our health and the quality of our relationships. I myself have called attention to this form of Cultural Stress and its corrosive effect on our happiness and our health, especially over time. So this July, while you’re celebrating our national Day of Independence, why not declare your device independence and reclaim authority over your life?

Take the Device Independence Challenge

Here are 10 Tips for Device Independence—even if it’s only for a day. (Try it for a day, and you might decide to make it a lifetime habit!)

  1. Start the morning unplugged. Have a cup of coffee, meditate, do yoga, go for a run, feed the cat, cook breakfast, write in your journal, all before checking on your phone or other device.
  2. Turn off notifications on your phone, tablet, laptop, and computer so that you aren’t interrupted by texts, headlines, emails, and other alerts at all hours of the day and night. Instead:
  3. Set three or four times during the day that you will check your emails, texts, and missed phone calls—and even the headline news alerts you missed if they are important to you. For example, I check my messages at 9 a.m., noon, and 4:00 p.m. I scroll the news headlines at 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. That’s it. The rest of the day is reserved for me and the people I choose to spend it with.
  4. End the day unplugged. Turn your phone off at night and don’t sleep with it next to your bed. (There is evidence that even short bursts of blue light that might not be enough to awaken you can nevertheless disturb your sleep cycle.) If your phone is your alarm, substitute an alarm clock—preferably NOT a digital one! And if you’re ready for a real stretch goal: consider getting up when your body says you’re rested, not when the clock says you must.
  5. Leave your phone behind—in your car, purse, briefcase, or pocket—when you’re socializing with friends. When you’re with others, be with others!
  6. Make the car a no-phone zone. Instead, pay attention to the road, the scenery, or your own thoughts. Don’t device and drive!
  7. Forget about measuring your exercise. If you use your phone as a fitness tracker, consider a Fitbit or other alternative. Better yet, forgo the measurement device altogether and work out according to other metrics: repetitions completed, distance covered, class time, or even your own pleasure and energy level for the day. We haven’t always measured every step we’ve taken. We have sometimes even exercised for enjoyment! You might find it liberating to exercise without your device as record-keeper and taskmaster.
  8. Declare one day a week free from all devices: cell phones, laptops, tablets, computers. Pretend you’re on a desert island without internet connection or cell service. Can you do it? If you were backpacking, or river rafting, or scuba diving you would; there’d be no alternative. Can you do it by intention alone?
  9. Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is the art of being fully present in each moment, giving it your full attention. When you’re washing the car, you’re fully engaged in soaping, rinsing, and drying each part of the vehicle, not on half-a-dozen other things. When you’re talking with a friend, you’re fully focused on talking and listening—not checking your phone for missed emails and text messages. So much of the time we look to our devices to distract us instead of letting ourselves be engaged by our surroundings and activities. Whether we’re riding the subway, driving through the countryside, or waiting in the doctor’s office for an appointment, we habitually look to our phones, rather than our environment. Stop doing that; you’re missing your life! It doesn’t matter much how long you live if you aren’t really paying attention for most of it.
  10. Honor yourself. When did we adopt the notion that everyone and everything happening “out there” in the world was more important than what was happening “in here” in our own sense of ourselves? When we let our devices, news headlines, and cell phone notifications rule our lives, we surrender our agency to outside forces. That’s a recipe for feeling unhappy and out of control. You are the most important person in your own life. Honor yourself and declare your independence from 24/7 device dependency.

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