Okay, so you think that as a baby boomer, somehow you’re not as attached to your electronic devices as those younger generations whose smartphone compulsions you scorn. Well, as Howard Tullman, executive director of the Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship at the Illinois Institute of Technology writes, think again. What he argues is, we’re no different than the rest of them. Being connected is as fundamental as food.
If you think that you aren’t emotionally and psychologically connected to your phone, tablet, computer, and cable/internet hookup, you’re kidding yourself. Try a quick digital cleanse and see just how long you last and how painful the experience is.
Sustenance, security, society, reputation, and fulfillment are all intimately intertwined these days in our interactions with our devices… and largely unavoidable and inescapable. Ask yourself whether you think it’s really worth working out if your Fitbit isn’t charged and tracking your efforts. Steps that aren’t measured and promptly synced are like trees falling in the forest. You can’t share and smirk about what the system can’t see. So, what’s the point?
To give you some quick idea of how extensive the problem is, misplace a phone or fail to sufficiently charge your devices. But first a word of warning: these endurance tests are for mature adults only. Do not try to impose any of these harsh and harrowing hardships on any of your kids. They’re just not up to the task, they’ll crack like an egg, and they’ll hate you for at least a week.
If you still have a landline phone and it rings during the tests, don’t sweat it— the call will be a telemarketer, scam artist, or pollster who will most assuredly call back. Or maybe a recorded reminder message from Walgreen’s or FedEx, but for sure, it won’t be any of your friends calling because they no longer have any idea of what your home phone number is or used to be.
When you don’t use it, it’s amazing how quickly you lose it. We’re forfeiting more and more of these “human” skills to the machines every day. Remembering, navigating, spelling, writing in cursive, etc. are all largely gone. Most kids today can’t write legibly or even clearly sign their names. And if they have any remaining use for a phone book, dictionary, or other weighty tome, it’s mainly to sit on top of so they can reach the kitchen table.
Test One: Silence and store your devices somewhere out of sight and sound for 30 minutes sometime between 9am and 6pm.
Seems like anyone should be able to do without their devices for half an hour without freaking out, but you’ll be distressingly surprised at just how hard it is to accomplish even this woefully modest level of withdrawal. We’re all intertwined (like it or not) much closer to 24/7 than we ever wanted to be. And being without— even for a short interval— produces a lot more anxiety and discomfort than you’d expect.
Test Two: Sit alone and quietly in a chair for 20 minutes without looking at your phone, screen, or other device.
We’re talking here about trying to overcome craftily manufactured addictions whose cravings are just as fierce as cigarettes were for so many people in the past. Sucking on a cancer stick was cool and calming if you didn’t care about your lungs or your future.
Today, you grab and check your phone with exactly the same kind of urgency and for much the same reasons. It will even make you much more patient in terms of waiting in line or online. Zoning out in front of the TV used to be a simple salve for sleepy couch potatoes, but now scrolling through social media serves up a slicker, swifter, and more satisfying solution. And, of course, you can always multi-task and do both at the same time while pretending that you’re listening to your spouse’s or significant other’s ongoing commentary. Best of all, you can tell yourself that in some bizarre fashion, you’re also being productive.
Test Three: Resist the temptation to look at your phone or computer for 10 minutes after you hear the ring, bing or bong from a text, email, call, or tweet.
If you think your dogs are occasionally Pavlovian, just take a quick gander at your friends and family members when their phones ring, bing, or bong. And you’re most likely no better at resisting the siren’s call yourself. You can think of this third test as cellular interruptus.
It turns out that once again, no one (except a few Nigerians) was texting to let you know that you’d inherited a million bucks from a long-lost relative. But that won’t keep you from doing the same silly response the very next time. We’re like the dog chasing the car and can’t really help ourselves.
Bottom line: we’re seeing over and over again that we don’t understand or appreciate how powerful and controlling technologies can be in our lives until it’s too late to turn back or try to restrict their influence. The battle of the mobile phone is long lost. We can’t live without them. Maybe if we act soon, we can save our kids from the sickness and stains of social media.
Howard is author and co-author of several books, including his newest, “You Can’t Win a Race With Your Mouth: And 299 Other Expert Tips from a Lifelong Entrepreneur.”