OK, folks, have I got a cool math lesson for you here. And wowza, it’s a brain teaser. And, it’s one that literally can save your life. No, I’m not talking about saving you from physical death, but rather saving you from missing out on your life. There’s an insidious little gadget causing you to lose significant amounts of your life every single day. And most of us aren’t even aware of it. So it’s not about life or death. It’s about life and living.
Here’s the math game. The average Millennial checks his or her phone 150 times each day. Yes, that’s right. 150 times. Now, this is nearly double the average number of times an individual of any age picks up their portable tech (which is still at least 80 times each day). But even at 80 times per day, we’re spending more time engaging with our technology than we spend engaging with what matters most to us.
The all-too-fabulous Amy Blankson, author of The Future of Happiness, shared some pretty jaw-dropping math on this phenomenon. She says, “If every distraction took only one minute (a seriously optimistic estimate), that would account for 2.5 hours of distraction every day. That’s 912.5 hours a year, or roughly 38 days each year.” To me, that is a big-time WHOA. Like, grab the reins, hold them tight, lean back, hunker down, and stop right there kind of WHOA.
Let’s think about those numbers for a minute. 150 times a day, resulting in 38 lost days each year. More than a month of your cruise around the sun this year, vanished (or maybe vanquished?) courtesy of a piece of technology originally invented to enhance our lives, but that has unwittingly and quite literally stolen large portions of our life experiences.
38 days. Let’s look at the tradeoff. 38 days could yield a one-month sabbatical from work and an extra week of vacation. Who’d volunteer to take that tradeoff? Uh, count me in. OK, since a sabbatical may not be possible or practical for some (all right, most) of us, let’s think about how those individual minutes, hours, and days could be used. They could be spent on…family time, your yoga practice, writing that book, learning to knit, or tracking down one of those Holly Hobby ovens and making questionable desserts with only the heat of a lightbulb (because you only live once, right?). Or, you could use them to launch that new business, create your art, tend to your garden, change a social condition, laugh with your peeps, or laugh without your peeps…maybe in a crowded elevator, just to see how other people react (because wouldn’t that be fun?). You could read a good book, walk your dog, let your dog walk you, spend time in nature, volunteer for your favorite charity, or dance the hokey pokey (because isn’t that what it’s all about?). Or, you could try writing a thank you note to mentor, mentor a child yourself, play a sport, play an instrument, or play a game (like collectively belting out the mistaken lyrics to every pop song you’ve all been singing wrong for years…come on, you know the words… “Hold me closer, Tony Danza”).
Or, you could choose to breathe deeply and recapture those lost moments and use them intentionally rather than texting or surfing or emailing or tweeting or watching your 14th video stream today of baby goats in pajamas. Cute, yes. Critical, no.
In short, you could start living your life rather than letting it pass you by while you’re otherwise occupied.
We live in a world that has all but replaced human connection with wifi connection, and we are reaping the negative effects of it. Brains are actually being rewired at warp speed (and not for the better), relationships are being replaced by gadgets (and not for our benefit). All the while, our happiness is being hijacked with our implicit (and often explicit) permission. We’ve all seen it–you go out to a restaurant and scan the place to see that nearly every table is filled with individuals in the same physical space but singularly inhabiting cyberspace, never the twain shall meet. Meaningful connection has been replaced digital addiction. And we’re all suffering for it.
So, what’s the alternative and how do we yellow-brick-road our way down the path toward that alternative? It starts with intentional choice. And it ends with intentional choice. So that makes it simple, which is kind of nice for a change. It’s about making the intentional choice about when, how, and why to use your technology for the powers of good (😊), and to purposefully and productively allow technology to serve you rather than enslave you. It’s about making the choice to meaningfully engage in life rather than mindlessly detaching from it.
Sadly, phones have become energy drainers and creativity sappers. They inadvertently but highly effectively insert a solid wedge between you and the people or passions or pursuits you care most about, and they compromise the meaningful use of your time and the innovative use of your mind. They insert wedges, I say. Now THAT is an atomic wedgie if ever there has been one. And who would willingly subject themselves to an atomic wedgie? (Note: for those unfamiliar with an atomic wedgie, and I hope you are, it involves the act of pulling another person’s underwear up toward or over the victim’s head, causing extreme discomfort…and often damage.) Time to declare an atomic-wedgie-free zone.
As a reminder: You are not your chat streak. Email is not an emergency. Your social media feed doesn’t feed your soul…in fact, it does quite the opposite. These technological advances were built to serve us–to connect, to help create, to entertain–but they’ve become the thing that increasingly effectively and efficiently separates us from our most important goals. It’s like watching perpetual episodes of Wile E Coyote and Road Runner, where Coyote launches each new invention to try to catch Road Runner (rockets, cannons, catapults, and computers), only to meet a tragic demise each and every time. How many times will we drop the anvil on our own heads before we have our own lightbulb moment?
So, what are the options? The modern world runs on technology so to give it up entirely is either unappealing or impossible for most of us. But it’s time in our relationship with technology to have that inevitable “we need to talk” moment. Or maybe it’s a “relationship groundrules” discussion. Or one of those, “in my house you’ll live by my rules” discussion. Whatever it is, consider the following ways to help you minimize the negative impacts of your phone or other tech on your life and maximize the benefits. Consider what I call the “decidedly and delightfully tech defaults.” These include:
- Designating specific places and times that are decidedly tech-free. Banish phones from the bedroom and the boardroom, the meeting table and the dinner table. Research shows that for the vast majority of people, the last thing they do at night is check their phones. And the first thing they do in the morning is check their phones. That doesn’t leave much room for connecting with partners or kids or dreams or yourself. Additional research shows that the simple act of having a phone visible during a meeting (even if it’s not used) makes meeting participants less attentive, less engaged, and less likely to be productive and thoughtful members of the conversation. When everyone makes a “no-tech zone” agreement, it becomes mutually reinforcing—easier to choose, and easier to correct when someone doesn’t choose it. The “no phone zone” should not only be a real practice, but a welcome one, for those who want better relationships and better results.
- Choosing specific people and events that are delightfully tech-free. A phone has no place at your kid’s sporting event or dance recital or math competition unless it’s set to airplane mode so you can take photos to commemorate the big day for all of eternity. Your tech doesn’t belong on a date with your spouse or on vacation with the family or at girls’ night out or on your walk or in your dance class or in the spa room or in the therapy session. And your gadget shouldn’t grace the halls of a wedding or a funeral or a retirement or a birthday party or a classroom or a movie theater or a park unless the babysitter or the kids need to find you in case of fire, loss of limb, or lottery win. Otherwise it can wait. Seriously.
So, this appeal morphs into an invitation requesting your heartfelt RSVP: How will you put structures and commitments in place that help you change your relationship with your phone (or other tech) so you can live with intention today…this week…this month…this year? Where are the tech-free zones that are decidedly or delightfully (ideally both) tech-free. Sacred spaces where you will passionately surf life instead of mindlessly surfing the web? How will you minimize your use of tech so you can maximize its effectiveness and efficiency? How will you boost your wellbeing and mindful presence in life, while honoring and celebrating the people who are most important and the pastimes that are most meaningful to you?
Food for thought here. When my kids were super young they always wanted to spend their money on those little machines in the foyers of restaurants and stores–the ones that dispense jelly beans, bouncy balls and stickers. At the toddler stage, they didn’t care if they already owned 37 bouncy balls, they just wanted another one. Then, at some point, they decided they had enough bouncy balls and they wanted to spend their money on something different…something better…more enjoyable…more lasting. Ultimately, they eventually decided they didn’t want the same old thing just because it was convenient, bright, and what they’d always done. Even toddlers evolve their thinking eventually…with a little growth, a bit of coaching, and someone to help point out the real cost and opportunity cost of spending all your resources on bouncy balls. Sometimes, even as adults, we need that same growth, coaching, support to point out the real and opportunity costs of our own choices.
So, consider this. You have exactly 1440 minutes in each day. Think about those minutes as a bank account that you can spend as you wish. Do you want to choose how to spend those resources on things that matter most to you, or do you want to allow a toddler to allocate all of those funds to whatever it wants? In essence, when you allow your tech to rule your life that’s essentially what you’re doing. You’re allowing the toddler to take charge. If you willingly turn over your financial decision-making to a toddler, you don’t get to ask “why did I waste that $1,440 on jelly beans and bouncy balls?” Likewise, if you willingly turn over your life and time (yes, that’s also your lifetime) decision-making to a gadget you also don’t get to ask, “why did I waste those hours…days…months…years…on…well…the psychological equivalent of jelly beans and bouncy balls?” Spend wisely, dear friends.
Together, let’s avoid the atomic wedgie that tech can unwittingly inflict on us and instead, consider making one change…even a very small one…to help you experience the power and the pleasure of being in this space, here and now, rather than cyberspace, all the time. What one decision will you make today to make a difference in every day thereafter? It just takes one…