During my sabbatical, I weaned myself (somewhat successfully) off of constant connectivity. Some days I left my phone at home and went out in the world. I felt naked, but it was also exciting: without directions, public transportation estimated arrival times, and a constant inflow of music/podcasts/lectures the world felt more dynamic. Sometimes I just had to wait, without anything to distract me, and notice the world around me.

A few weeks ago I listened to “Do we need humans?“,  a fascinating NPR TED Radio hour debating if technology is making us more connected or less human. An interesting concept Sherry Turkle brought up in her TED talk is how we use technology to give us a false sense of connection (having more friends on Facebook than you do in real life) while simultaneously allowing us to disconnect and avoid being vulnerable real-time (checking your email to avoid meeting new people at a party).

Technology allows us to pick and choose when we feel vulnerable, which isn’t being vulnerable at all. As Brene Brown says in The Gifts of Imperfection, “We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known.” If we hide behind our iPhones when we are feeling most vulnerable, it hinders our ability to be loved deeply because we are never “deeply seen and known.”

It doesn’t matter

Something I noticed by decreasing my connectivity is that being hyper-connected actually doesn’t matter. Whether you answer an email now or in two hours doesn’t really matter. Checking Facebook while you wait for the train doesn’t really matter. Sharing a photo on Instagram during dinner doesn’t really matter. Whether you check or post something now or later doesn’t make a difference, really. But somehow we make it feel that way.

As I return to life post-sabbatical I am much more conscious of my use of technology. I have the lowest data plan possible for my phone (always have) not for financial reasons but to be conscious of how much “data” I consume. Sometimes I turn the data off my phone towards the end of the month because I’ve run out of MBs. And it’s actually really freeing.

One tool that’s been incredibly useful is to ask myself, “Does it matter?” when I’m considering using my phone or technology to connect. 

Here’s a simple example: You wake up in the middle of the night. You turn on your phone to check the time. The bright screen blinds you (further disrupting your sleep cycle) and you start thinking about the time (how much time you have left to sleep, what you have to do when you wake up, etc.). Perhaps you even check your email, and a whole other dialogue in your head begins.

But really, does it matter what time it is? It’s the middle of the night! You are going to stay in bed regardless. There’s no decision to be made, nothing to do – just lost sleep while you mull over how early/late it is.

Another example: You check your email on the way from point A to point B. You see an email that is fairly important – it doesn’t need an immediate response, just a thoughtful one. There’s nothing you can do about it now – but you’re going to think about it for the next several hours until you can write a reply. You’re distracted at your meetings/with your kids/on your date. You are absent from the present moment.

But checking your email in that moment doesn’t really matter. The person is going to get the response at the same time. Really, you are the only one affected by checking your email constantly. It doesn’t change the experience of the person at the other end the majority of the time.

Much of our behavior with technology is automatic – and unnecessary. Asking “Does it matter?” makes you conscious of when you use it and how it affects you.

Take it a step further by asking yourself why you want to connect right now. Are you feeling bored, lonely, uncomfortable, anxious, overwhelmed? Rather than default to escaping through technology, allow yourself to pause and see what’s really going on, the need you’re trying to fill by staring at a screen.

Rather than give you a false sense of connection or importance, identifying what you really need in the moment gives you the opportunity to truly connect.

I’d love to hear from you: How do you balance technology in your life? When do you use it to give you a false sense of connection and security? How can you change the pattern?