(I apologize in advance if you find this post a bit preachy. This experience had a huge impact on me.)
I went for a walk a few weeks ago. It was one of the slightly warmer and sunnier weekend afternoons after a very cloudy, wet and cool spring. I felt so grateful to be out of the house and stretching my legs amidst all the beauty that day had to offer.
As I strolled down the neighborhood nature trail and into the park, I could hear the birds singing and the happy sounds of kids at play. I felt the sun on my face and shoulders and began to notice all the plants and tree leaves that had emerged since my last walk.
And then, something odd began to happen. I saw how many people were out and about, just like me. I wanted to share a knowing look and a smile as we reveled in the joy of being out in nature at last. As I looked around and sought to make eye contact, I noticed that no one was looking back. And few were taking in the experience of being outside. Instead, they were absorbed in whatever was showing on their phone screen.
At first, I didn’t think much about it. I often see parents at the park, watching the phone instead of their kids; people at dinner scrolling instead of talking with each other; drivers sitting through lights because they are texting.
The further I walked, though, the more people I encountered. I passed about 100 people that afternoon, and only 6 of them were actually present to the world around them. The rest of them were engrossed in their phones. After an initial reaction of disbelief, I began to feel fear. Had I been transported into a world of zombies? Did they even know where they were or what was going on around them? What was so compelling on the phone? I’d never seen so many people at the same time in this trance. The experience freaked me out!
I wondered what each of these people were missing – like their life. Beyond the documented dangers of cell phones on your health (tumors, headaches, poor sleep, for example) and mental health ( like addiction, depression and anxiety), they can interfere with the social connections and healthy relationships that make being alive meaningful.
So I propose an experiment for you…right now, as you read this, you are most likely on a phone, tablet or computer. Notice how you are feeling right now as you are engaged with this device. Now, put your phone (tablet, computer) down! Let go of it. Take a few breaths, even close your eyes for a few moments. Feel your body and let it relax. Ease into a few moments of breathing and being, letting go of doing and your connection to the device. Notice how it feels. When you are done, look up and if there is someone nearby, see if you can make eye contact and smile. See what can happen when you put down your phone.