If your electronic device was a person, how would you characterize your relationship?
Scenario 1: We’re attached at the hip – literally – and fingertips. What would I do without you?
Scenario 2: You’re smothering me. My focus on you is interfering with other relationships. I want space.
Chances are both of the above apply to you. Electronic devices have become an extension of our personalities – and of our lives. There’s no doubt they simplify everyday tasks and – if used wisely – streamline communication. But they complicate life too. Like a vampire, they suck up the hours we’d rather be spending with loved ones. But it’s an easy trap to fall into since logging on (and tuning out) is so tempting.
A Q&A on NPR with journalist Catherine Price, author of How To Break Up With Your Phone: The 30-Day Plan To Take Back Your Life, describes ways to strike a balance and discover what works for you.
(NPR): How do you decide what screen time is useful in helping you cope during the pandemic, versus what’s over the top?
Catherine Price: I always recommend to people that they try to gently get into the habit of cultivating moment-to-moment awareness of how they feel while they’re on their screens.
I also recommend reducing “ease of access.” If you’ve got that device in your pocket, it’s very easy to access every news app in the universe. So instead of carrying your phone in your pocket all the time, maybe create a charging station for your phone somewhere nearby, but not within arm’s reach. … I’m not saying that phones are inherently bad, but just in many cases, our phones are direct portals into the news. And the news is extremely stressful. The solution is to make nourishing activities as easy as possible, and to reduce your ease of access to the devices that are stressing you out.
Right now, my phone is not only a conduit to the news, but it’s also a conduit to every single person I care about who’s not in my house with me. So how do you regulate that access?
So just as screen time is not all the same, the uses of our phones are not all the same. Our phones are like little refrigerators that have all sorts of different apps in them, some of which are beneficial and some of them are not. We shouldn’t think about our phone as just one lump object. We should ask ourselves how each particular app is making us feel.
I agree with you that generally, it feels life-affirming to connect with other people on the phone. And yet there are a lot of people in my network who are also quite anxious. And so I feel torn between being available to them and getting locked into someone’s anxiety spiral. So how do you calibrate your own availability and your own sanity?
I think that this goes back to the idea of monitoring how certain activities and interactions make you feel in as real-time as possible. If you notice that every time you talk to your sister or something, you feel bad or you feel more anxious, then you’ve got two options. Either reduce the number of interactions you have with her, or have a conversation about how this is making your own anxiety worse. And while you know it’s hard, would it be possible for the two of you to try to talk about something else when you connect? I think communication is really important.
I also think it’s really important to recognize that even though it’s wonderful to connect with people during this time using the tools that are available to us, it also can get to be too much, even if the other person isn’t particularly anxious. I mean, I find that my Zoom schedule is so packed that sometimes it starts to feel exhausting. It’s especially important during this time to consider giving ourselves breaks because it’s easy to burn out on connection even when it’s good.
So you’re really encouraging people to think of this break as self-care and not as some productivity game that they’re imposing on themselves. Right?
Exactly. I don’t think we should be imposing more things on ourselves right now. Is that ever really the best approach?
I feel like there’s all these “shoulds” that we always put on ourselves instead of asking: What is right for us? What is going to make us happy and productive people, people who are not just nervous wrecks all the time during this stressful period? For some people, that might mean that they want to binge on Netflix every night. And that’s what makes them feel good. For other people, they might rather do a Zoom happy hour. For another person, they might want to turn off their screens and read a book. For some people, they’re just surviving right now, whether it’s emotionally or financially. And the idea of adding anything else to their plate is just out of the question.