By Yvonne Sam
No one noticed my entry.
I could have disembarked from a space ship, bedecked in my birth suit — presenting parts visible with bows for extra adornment — and it would have had the same effect. No one looked up.
The, over a dozen or so, adults were all paying homage to their mobile devices.
I have come to fully accept my human existence in an ultra-connected world, but seeing this synchronized, choreographed, digital “dance” was the ultimate proof. It was my “aha! moment” of confirming how preoccupied we are with our hand-held appendages.
Now please do not get me wrong, or jump to call me, of all names, hypocritical. I love technology just as much as the next person and I see the immense value of it and, I do agree that it connects us with others in ways we were never able to before.
However, there are extreme advantages to going off the grid for a while — and there is a growing world of science behind it that just cannot be ignored. Then again, it is not just myself that I am protecting by being mindful of technology; it is also future generations.
I am willing to bet, a dime to a donut, that wherever any reader is now, there are at least two or more screens occupying the same room. The fact is our devices are now involved in nearly every part of our lives. Some of us even sleep with our phones, as we need it to wake us up.
As species of the homo sapiens genus occupying planet Earth, it is blatantly apparent that we have become intolerant of a moment of being alone. There is no denying it, we are hopelessly and completely addicted, and the rate and level of addiction does not seem to be abating.
The truth be told, we lead plugged-in lives, and ‘unbeknowingly’ have become “digiholics”; a digital detox is certainly and urgently needed.
Our brain needs constant stimulation and that is perhaps the most dangerous change of all. Why dangerous? It is crucial to be calm and focused in order to make important life decisions, but our connection to technology has obliterated our attention span.
Studies have shown that 73% of the general population suffers from nomophobia — the fear of being without a cell phone.
Let us face it, face up, we don’t always have the healthiest relationship with technology. From endlessly scanning social media sites to incessantly checking emails, we tote around serious digital baggage, day after day, that wreaks havoc on our minds and bodies. Headaches and “text neck” are certainly not the only physical ailments caused by staying constantly connected.
Harvard Medical School scientists found that using a cell phone or laptop before bed can disrupt the body’s production of melatonin and negatively affect sleep quality.
There’s even such a thing as phantom cell phone vibration syndrome. This is where the phone is in your pocket on silent, yet you hear your text message beep. Or the phone may be forgotten at home, yet somehow you hear it ringing. You are officially losing your mind.
On the other hand, there is what happens when someone is actually using a phone. There’s a smart-phone gait: the slow sidewalk weave that comes from being lost in conversation rather than looking where you are going. Thumbs are stronger, attention shorter, temptation everywhere. We can always be mentally, digitally, someplace other than where we are.
The fact that the phrase “digital detox” has made its way into the Oxford Dictionary Online is proof, in itself, humans could stand to benefit from a little break from our screens.
Many of us seem to have forgotten that there was an existence before technology. People were able to meet up for coffee without carrying a phone with them. They were able to find out urgent news. They were able to communicate with their families without Facebook.
Was it better? No, probably not. But were people able to function? Were they able to lead joyful and fulfilling lives? Absolutely! Not an iota of doubt here.
My idea of starting an unplugging movement isn’t to completely pull people away from their devices — in fact, it’s quite the opposite.
The point of disconnecting from our devices and reconnecting to the world around us, is intended to remind us that there is a world outside of our screens — and as a result, there is a way to come back to them and use them in a more mindful manner.
There are real interactions awaiting us, not just the Facebook chats and emails waiting in our inboxes. Unplugging reminds us that life is happening.
To be constantly stimulated means that we are not fully in touch with our consciousness, and not really equipped to be rational. Our joy should not be dependent on what’s written on a screen. And that is the point of unplugging…
By filling our days with more meaningful social interactions (pastimes) we will ultimately guide the next generation towards healthier lives.
Yvonne Sam, a retired Head Nurse and Secondary School Teacher, is Vice-president of the Guyana Cultural Association of Montreal. A regular columnist for over two decades with the Montreal Community Contact, her insightful and incursive articles on topics ranging from politics, human rights and immigration, to education and parenting have also appeared in the Huffington Post, Montreal Gazette, XPressbogg and Guyanese OnLine. She is also the recipient of the Governor General of Canada Caring Canadian Citizen Award.