I think I’m pretty good about keeping tech in its proper place in life. I’m not glued to my phone and I don’t scroll social media (much, LOL!). I also have silent mode on as standard.
This weekend I was at my sister-in-law’s mum’s home with my partner.
We were painting her art room floor, with some more of the fam. It was fun, we were busy, the coffee and chat were flowing and I hardly looked at my phone all day.
Most of the time it wasn’t even in the same room as me.
But I wondered… when did that become so unusual?!
How has tech crept into every corner of my waking life?
My sister-in-law has a great tech/real-world balance, so why can’t I?
After all, she has kids and she works. She needs sat nav and Whatsapp and music and YouTube plumbing videos just as much as I do…
So, I had a talk with her. Yep, in real life. And here are Jo’s top ten habits for balancing tech use and real-life interactions!
1) Tech-free morning routine
I get it. A lot of the time, out and about, the phone has to be on hand.
But Jo makes the early mornings a tech-free zone. No checking anything before 9 a.m.
It needs some organisation the evening before (no last-minute messages about spare PE shorts!). But people like Jo start the day without engaging with tech at all.
Imagine… No phones at the breakfast table means better real-world connection before you and your loved ones get going on the day.
And no work email horror to stress you out two hours before you can actually do anything about it. Heaven!
2) Tech-aware weekends
Like early mornings, weekends are a good time to rebalance your tech use.
Sometimes being glued to our phones is just a habit hanging over from the working week.
So on the weekend, sure, enjoy a good catch-up with friends’ messages, social media, and personal e-mails. But then put the tech away and get out there. Or read a book without pausing to scroll.
Jo gives weekends different boundaries around tech and is mindful of a potential social media spike.
3) Engage less with social media, full stop
According to the Center for Humane Technology:
“A person’s social media usage level significantly predicts their level of neuroticism/ anxiety one year later, as shown by a long-term study of 11,000 people aged 20-97. In addition, levels of neuroticism/anxiety predicted later levels of social media use, leading researchers to suggest a possible negative downward spiral linking these two processes.”
A participant in a 2018 PEW Research Center study, Kate Thomas, writes:
“Unfortunately, major social media corporations have discovered that anger and insecurity keep people glued to their screens. As long as profit is more important than people, digital life will only grow more destructive.”
Obviously, social media is amazing, connects us, and provides meaningful, active, creative communities. It brings us education and business opportunities, knowledge, and all the wonders…
But it’s worth knowing that we can fall into negative mental health spirals that encourage more use.
If this resonates with you, take a breather and step back for a while…
4) Boundaries around ‘working’ tech
An APA (American Psychological Association, a leading body in its field) survey found that digital technology helps people be more flexible and productive, and makes getting their work done easier.
I get that – tech is now integral to work for most people, including me.
However, balancing this with in-person interactions is vital to our well-being at work. Being able to read body language helps us build trust with others, so it’s good for business too.
Jo uses tech to do the repetitive work, manage workflows, and hold online meetings. But she balances that with real-life meetings, harnessing the magic of human connection and creativity, too.
5) Stop the pinging and dinging
According to the APA:
“Psychologists at the University of British Columbia found that when smartphone users turned off smartphone notifications, they reported lower levels of inattention and hyperactivity than they did during weeks when their notifications were turned on.”
Back to the APA:
“What’s more, frequent notifications were also associated with lower levels of productivity, social connectedness, and psychological well-being. In a similar study, the same research team found that people who checked email continuously reported more stress than those who checked email only three times per day.”
We know (thanks to Harvard University’s Trevor Haines) that every little ping and ding gives you a dopamine reward – making you feel good.
To me, that’s feeling good without meaning. Getting a good balance between tech and real-world interactions makes for a life with more depth, fulfillment, and meaning.
So how do we steal back a little more room for this?
6) Good substitutes
One way is to make some subs.
Jo challenged me to find alternatives to the ever-present phone, like using:
- An alarm clock rather than your phone alarm in the mornings… and buying a watch!
- An old phone to download and listen to podcasts, meditations, and audiobooks – the kind of things that are often enjoyed at night or in the early morning.
- The camera on an old phone or… gasp… an actual camera!
These subs help break the cycle of picking up the phone for one thing and ‘coming to’ an hour later!
You’ll soon be taking back your time and focus for more real-world interactions.
7) Say yes to real-world meet-ups
People with a good tech / real-world balance say yes to coffee and cake!
They meet up in person, rather than always calling, DMing, messaging, or whatever.
This is hugely beneficial for your well-being, in so many ways.
Plus, you know, you get the coffee and cake…
8) Be there for others
And then, when people with that great balance arrive at the café, or wherever… they’re actually there.
They’re present, aware, fully, listening, laughing, reflecting, expressing, and engaging.
They’re grounded in the body, and connected with their breath. They’re tuned into their senses too.
They’re creating meaning, deepening relationships, and feeling fulfillment.
And even if the meet-up is boring or difficult, according to psychologist Doreen Dodgen-Magee, they’re firing and wiring their brains for patience and tolerance.
So, they’re kinder and more intentional as a result. Then they’re not seeking out so much of the ‘dopamine hit’ type of cheap thrill digital input.
A virtuous cycle that supports well-being begins.
9) Nurture a strong real-world community
As that virtuous cycle gets going, real-world relationships deepen.
But that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Online community can seem easier.
Doreen Dodgen-Magee says that online we: “We easily objectify others and “shop” for community rather than learning to live within a diverse community of people who are present in our embodied spaces.”
But even so, we’re often not our best selves online…
In the 2018 PEW Research Center study, one University Dean wrote, “Anonymized discourse, it turns out, is not a civilizing influence, nor is having one’s every thought broadcast in real time the best way for us to interact as humans.”
In real-world interactions, we pause and reflect, and we deeply understand that we have another human being in front of us. We practise patience, tolerance, and negotiation.
And if we blow our tops, then we, equally human, deal with the fall out of that. And, hopefully, we come out better and stronger.
Real-world interactions really open our hearts to kindness, understanding, and empathy too.
That’s because we can feel and respond to what people aren’t saying as well as what they are. We can see how they move and breathe. We can hug them and feel their energy.
So people like Jo say yes to projects, gatherings, and events too – whether that’s painting floors or a board games afternoon with all the kids.
10) Switch it off to switch on
So gather… and then they put the phones away!
“The Stress in America survey found 44% of people who check email, texts, and social media often or constantly report feeling disconnected from their family, even when they’re together.”
So, people like Jo use tech to plan meet-ups and to send pix afterwards (which can be taken in airplane mode if you want to refine this further!). But they’re not on the phone during the fun.
Which brings me back to the powerful sense of well-being I felt on painting day. Yes, it’s because I love the fam… But it was even better because I ditched the tech for the day.
Adopting more of these good habits will bring even greater well-being, too.
The well-being that comes from deeper, more meaningful human connections, whether that’s at work, with friends or family.
So, let’s enjoy the magical, wonderful connectivity tech brings us, while making sure that isn’t at the expense of ourselves or those around us. Okay, I’m off to buy an alarm clock now!