Step Away From the Phone

By Maryann Hammers

Justine Beauregard and her husband were sitting on the couch, watching television. Quality time together, right? Justine thought so— until her husband glanced at her, clearly annoyed. “Are you planning on spending time with me, or will you be on your phone all night?” he asked.

“[My phone use] was putting a huge strain on our relationship,” admits the 27-year-old marketing professional. “[My husband] felt like I was never fully present. I never noticed how much less attention I paid him while I was on my phone.”

Ironically, the more mobile phones connect us to the world, the more disconnected we become. And that can wreak havoc on our relationships, our happiness, and our home lives.

“Our phones are constantly buzzing,” says Kyra Bobinet, MD, MPH, senior instructor-researcher of health engagement in Stanford University’s Behavior Design Lab, whose current research looks at health benefits and risks related to engaging with technology. “When our attention devolves to that of a squirrel, all kinds of things escape us—like eating the whole bag of chips, not completing long-term projects, or not bonding with others.”

Looking for more incentive to step away from the phone? Here are three good reasons to disconnect.

1. You will be more interesting to friends and more appealing to lovers.

Out with friends for lunch? On a date? Hanging with the kids? Turn off the phone and put it away. The mere presence of a phone squashes conversations and face-to-face interactions, according to a 2012 study.1

2. You won’t seem like a jerk.

No one wants to be considered boorish or inappropriate, but if you are overly attached to your phone, your behavior is probably both.

Nearly one-third of phone users admit to checking their phones while dining with others according to a 2012 study, 2 and 10 percent said they check their phones during religious services. More than one-third check their phones while using the bathroom. More than half take their phones to bed—checking them before drifting off to sleep, in the middle of the night, and when they wake up.

The researchers describe this behavior as a “new mobile mindset.” Your dining companions, lovers, and fellow worshippers would call it something else: rude.

3. You will get more out of life. 

When you are gazing at your phone, you’re missing out on everything else. Your phone use “robs you of the beautiful trees, sunshine, and birds—key elements of mental health and well-being,” says Dr. Bobinet.

And your family members—especially children—miss you.

“I have seen parents who are so caught up on their phones that they do not notice their small child staring up at them, hungry for attention and affection,” says Dr. Bobinet.

Abigail Burd, LCSW, a San Diego psychotherapist, cites a “Still Face” experiment3 in which a mother stares blankly rather than interacts with her baby. “It is painful to see the baby’s distress at seeing her unresponsive mother,” Burd says. (Watch the video at http://www.abigailburdlcsw.com/want-look-phoneless-around-baby.)

Look around. If you are in a public place, chances are you’re surrounded by similarly blank faces. “That’s what we look like when we are staring at our phones,” Burd notes.

As for Justine, today she allocates specific times for phone use, keeping it silent the rest of the day. She shuts it off at bedtime. And she wrote a book on balance in life titled To the Women Who Want It All (Amazon Digital Services, 2014; $9.99). “I wrote my book as I curbed use of my cell phone,” she says.

References

  1. Przybylski A, Weinstein N. Can you connect with me now? How the presence of mobile communication technology influences face-to-face conversation quality. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. 2013;30(3):237-46. doi: 10.1177/0265407512453827.
  2. Mobile Mindset Study. Lookout wwebsite. Available at https://www.lookout.com/resources/reports/mobilemindset. Accessed April 17, 2015.
  3. Abigail Burd. Why I Want to Look at My Phone Less around My Baby (blog). Available at http://www.abigailburdlcsw.com/want-look-phone-less-around-baby/ Accessed April 17, 2015.