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No Phones at the Dinner Table

A few days ago, I forgot my phone at home. Over the course of the holidays, I often left my phone face down on any given surface, or in my room out of sight.  When I am with my partner, I rarely pick up my phone. 

Leaving your phone at home used to be an "oh-well" kind of accident.  Some people would even let their phones....die! The horror! Nowadays, without a phone, you won't know how to get where you're going, you won't be able to pay for what you're buying, or all of the people in your life are going to wonder what happened to you (or at least, that's what you think). 

In actuality, each time I return to my phone after leaving it idle I am surprised by how few messages and notifications appear. This observation reflects both feelings of urgency where it needn't exist, and that I am often "answering a phone" ie. swiping up and in to some time wasting app that does not need to be "answered." While I was away there were no emergencies, no worried friends and family (ahem), or missed turns to show for it. And, research shows that without my phone I was more invested in the time I was spending while I was spending it. 

From the Happier Hours by Cassie Holmes, PhD, "Research shows that we are distracted and not thinking about what we are currently doing almost half of the time. This means that even when we are spending time on enjoyable activities, we could very well miss out on potential joy." 

But, it can be hard to disconnect. I was in 8th grade when I got my first iPhone which means I have spent half my life dependent on it for directions, communication and to fill my time, to take me away from stressors, or to inform me of impending doom. The vibration of my phone (and/or my watch) triggers something in me that makes me feel like I immediately need to see what's going to apparate onto the screen. It is, scientifically, an addiction. Dopamine is released when I enter the 3 x 6 inch world in my hand. I have personally observed an increase in addictive tendencies during periods of high stress and as a tool for procrastination.

How did I go from being dictated by the tiny dings to forgetting my phone entirely? I put on Do Not Disturb to reduce frequency of response to notifications throughout my day. This is a great tool, too, because others (iPhone users) will know that you may be hard to reach. When I receive notifications I try not look at them right away, decreasing my reaction time and the association with sound/vibration to a dopamine release related to notification. And finally, when I am particularly focused, I will read a message and put the unread dot back on it (by swiping right on Messages home screen) to remind me to return to the message later to respond.

A few days ago, I soaked up every snuggle, laugh and yawn of my niece on the day she turned four months old. Over the course of the holidays, I enjoyed card games and meals with my siblings and parents. When I am with my partner, I am engrossed in conversation - laughing, wondering aloud, and connecting. These moments of joy are irreplaceable. I can think of places that I can continue to improve: lone meal times, walks, and times like this....I'll just put it down now. Join me?


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