Some of us can remember life before smart phones, back when we didn’t have all sorts of media at our fingertips at any time, or others urgently demanding our attention throughout the day through texts and email. Now it is commonplace to watch a movie while writing a report and playing Words with Friends and responding to texts or emails, all seemingly at the same time. But is there a cost?
The truth is, what we call multitasking is actually just quickly switching from one task to another. And our brains weren’t designed for that. We’re designed to focus on one thing at a time, so when we over stimulate our brains (and overfill our lives with media), there’s a price. Not only does it affect us mentally, it also takes a toll on our relationships and even our health and safety.
Our productivity suffers.
Some would argue for multitasking on the grounds of efficiency, but when our attention is used to switch from task to task, it actually takes longer to get things done. Plus, it tends to create added stress, leads to more errors, and disrupts our short term memory. It reduces our ability to concentrate or focus on one task for a length of time because we train our brain to switch over and over.
It’s damaging our relationships.
We are often not fully present with others when we are checking our phones. One of our greatest needs is for human connection. We can’t fully connect with others if we are connected to what is happening on our phones. Choosing not to put your phone away when you’re with another person sends a message about how much you value that other person (not a good one).
It’s hurting our creativity.
We now have the ability to escape boredom in an instant. But boredom can breed creativity and self-awareness and drive us to invent. Instead of lying in bed and letting our minds come up with new ideas, or daydreaming about our next big move, we watch cute dog videos. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge proponent of a good dog video). But we need quiet. We need space away from media noise in order to hear our own voice.
We are missing out.
We might pick up our phones out of fear of missing out (FOMO), but we are missing out on our own lives and what’s going on around us. From noticing people, ideas, nature, and beauty, to noticing the car pulling out in front of us, our phones are getting in our way. There’s a spiritual danger, and a very real physical danger.
So,what can we do?
First, we resist the urge to get on our phones constantly. Delete apps, remove notifications, put it away – whatever works for you. Then learn to sit quietly, to listen to your own thoughts, to listen to other’s thoughts, to focus on the task at hand. Try planning out your day in blocks with time to return emails, watch dog videos, or daydream. Budget your time so you’re not missing out on your own life.