I think it is well accepted that the constant use of our electronic devices has taken its toll on our face-to-face interactions with others. We see it all around us– people with their heads down, eyes locked on hand-held screens, not engaging with the world around them. Heck, I’ve seen two friends sitting right next to each other texting back and forth instead of having an actual conversation, and many a couple having dinner at a restaurant looking at their phones instead of each other. I think, inherently, we understand this is not a good thing, not a good way to bond with others. The piece we haven’t really acknowledged or talked about is the impact our devices are having on our relationships with ourselves. Enter the death of the daydream.
To borrow from the Minimalists, Josh Fields Milburn wisely notes “human beings used to have precious interstitial zones in which we could find momentary solace: airports, checkout lines, waiting rooms, and other places were transient sanctuaries in which we could bask in reverie. This is no longer the case.” Now, any downtime we have, instead of zoning out or letting our mind wander, we whip out our phones to check social media or the stock reports, or to watch the latest silly cat video. All day long we are plugged in. We are constantly bombarding the mind with information and not allowing the necessary time to process it all, thus we are perpetually over stimulated. TMI baby…Too. Much. Information!
Daydreaming, though frowned upon in elementary school math class, is actually really beneficial. No one would argue that sleep is an essential time for the body to rest, repair, grow and process. Well, turns out, daydreaming may be just as important. A Times article (W.Willimon 2014) claims “your best thinking occurs when your mind wanders. Among the benefits of mind wandering [are]…generating future scenarios, self-reflection, navigating complex social situations and incubating new ideas, to say nothing of giving your brain a rejuvenating vacation.” I do my best thinking while walking in the woods. There are no distractions and my mind is free to roam where it may. On many, many occasions, almost fully formed poems have popped into my head during these times of solace. Many blog posts have been generated this way as well. By checking our electronic devices every free nanosecond we have, we are eliminating our chance to daydream and, just maybe, our creativity.
Now, I may be being a bit disingenuous here, since I, too, am guilty of constantly checking my phone. My husband will never let me live down the time I was texting while his parents were singing Happy Birthday to him. In my defense, we had already had a family party for him the day before where I was fully engaged (OK, OK, I admit, it wasn’t cool). But, it just goes to show the things are addicting. So, I am embarking on an experiment to reduce my “screen” time to three times a day: checking in over my morning coffee, perusing again at lunch, and maybe quickly again before heading to bed. I have to add one caveat, however, where I think my phone has enriched my relationships…group chats. I have a handful of ongoing group chats with some amazing women. Three of these women I have been friends with for over 20 years and we all live far apart. Group chatting with them at various points throughout the week keeps us connected where a phone call just isn’t feasible. Another group is made up of local friends who are just downright nuts and keep me laughing, usually when I need it most. So, I’m going to make a concession for group chats. Don’t judge.
Smart phones and other electronic devices are not inherently bad and can definitely enrich our lives if we use them responsibly and in a way that adds value to our lives (a big Minimalists theme). However, when they become an unhealthy obsession, an extension of our own bodies, then we should maybe step back and rethink our relationships with them. What purpose are they really serving? Are we mindlessly wasting time filling our heads with useless information when we could be allowing our mind a much needed rest? Could we be daydreaming and creating instead of absently scrolling? I know I need to take a hard look at my own use, thus the experiment I proposed above. Stay tuned for my progress…just don’t check back too often! Go for a walk instead.