Today more than ever it’s become harder and harder to connect with people face-to-face. Why? Because in our society, people — especially millennials and emerging generations — hide behind digital screens. I was walking out of a coffee shop recently when I noticed a throng of high schoolers strolling through the center of town. None of them were actually talking to one another; they were all entranced by content on their phones. This is a far cry from my own high school days of conversations with girlfriends on a neon light-up house phone in my bedroom. Screens have absolutely taken over our lives. Phones, tablets, computers, TV screens, wearable tech — it’s become, dare I say, almost an addiction.
And I’m not the only one who thinks this way. Headlines and anti-screen smear campaigns have even claimed that screens are “digital heroin.” Dr. Nicholas Kardaras explains how recent brain imaging research has shown that screens affect the brain’s frontal cortex — which controls executive functioning, including impulse control — in exactly the same way that cocaine does. And that the technology raises dopamine levels to similar levels found during sex.
Ok, so that argument might sound a little dramatic, but it certainly makes you think twice. I have discussed social media addiction at length with friends and family. The time that goes into posing for and capturing the perfect picture that may or may not represent what that moment was actually like, and then the gratification (or not) that you get from “friends” liking said picture (or not). It’s exhausting. I have a girlfriend who regularly “quits” Instagram because she becomes so enthralled with the channel that she has to cut herself off to reset.
And what about the amount of time you spend perusing social channels to see what your 900+ friends are up to. There is no point in attending reunions anymore since you already know what everyone’s doing, even though you’ll pretend you don’t. Or how about the fact that your fingers are on autopilot each time you pick up your phone. Click the email app, toggle back and forth between work and personal, hit up Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, CNN, etc. Every. Single. Time. Setting my alarm at night takes me 20 minutes because my fingers just keep clicking through the repertoire of familiar icons. I exert more energy thinking about not reaching for my phone than doing it, a seriously conscious effort I try to make in front of my two little girls.
And our kids! What a world they’ll grow up in. My three-year-old becomes so enthralled by the television screen that I could be screaming her name and she won’t hear a thing. And while she only gets to use her tablet on flights or when I drag her to a doctor’s appointment (and, fine, the occasional dinner out when my husband and I aren’t in the mood to have our faces covered in stickers), trying to get her to give it back when her session is over is like yanking a hambone from a pitbull. No joke.
So, what is it exactly about watching and interacting with a screen that gets people so hooked? I don’t have the answer. But perhaps we can change the tides a bit and make it a priority to spend time in real life with the people and things we care about, rather than experiencing them virtually. It’s become as if the things we experience on-screen are more real than what we see for ourselves out in the world. I read a quote recently about how if it doesn’t happen on social media, it’s like it never happened at all. Is there something fundamentally wrong that our society feels that way?
Working for an experiential marketing agency, we see the value in interacting with consumers in-person and in real time. While giving a campaign legs via social channels is important, at the end of the day it’s in-person experiences that are truly memorable for a consumer. Unfortunately, these experiences are becoming few and far between these days.
How do you do your part to fix this? Put your phone down and connect in another way. A real way. Meet a friend for coffee and have a conversation rather than texting with them. Talk to a colleague in person versus sending an email. Put the phone down and talk to your kids. Stop trying to capture that perfect picture and just live in the moment. You cannot form a relationship with a screen, or laugh with a screen, or grow old with a screen. Look around and live your life in the real world. Or at least gather enough content from living so that you have something interesting to post about later. Wink, wink.