Chapter 10: How to Help Your Overly Plugged in Friends

Do you have friends who are in too deep?

We’re reached the beginning of the end of our story, a chapter I hope finds you well on your way to new beginnings and a daily routine augmented by technology. Through these pages, you’ve learned how to unplug. It’s not a problem for you.

But that doesn’t mean it might not be a problem for someone else.

What action should you take when the techno-habits of your friends are negatively impacting your experience when you’re around them? Take it from me, there’s no easy answer, especially if you’d rather not become a controlling crazy lady like I was at my ‘phone-free party’. But that said, there are helpful, subtle ways to share your newfound love for device-free time without being a pariah.

1. Walk the Walk

I don’t think there is anything as inspiring as being with people who do what they say they’re going to do. The reverse is also true - it’s seriously annoying being around people behaving hypocritically. The ‘do as I say, not as I do’ model doesn’t really hold up in my books.

So here’s the good news. As you implement changes for your own technologically balanced well-being, you’re already encouraging others to think about their behaviours and to consider changes of their own.

2. Start the Conversation

I have the privilege of chatting about the topic of social media and technology on a regular basis. It affects our mental wellness, so I talk about it. Whether it occurs in individual sessions or in workshops, the topic comes up more and more often. But I’ve also realized I’m a serious outlier on this front. While mainstream media is starting to acknowledge the effects of being connected, this dialogue does not seem to have yet transferred into our personal interactions.

In other words, if I can talk about it, you can talk about it. It might be difficult to reflect and converse about our habits, especially if they’re shrouded in negativity. Yet those of us who are already immersed in the conversation can carry it on and invite others in so they can start their own journey.

This does not have to be such a heavy topic. Even a simple statement like “I pulled my camera out of the closet because I love taking photos with it instead of my iPhone” can go a long way. Or, if you’re feeling a bit more bold, try sharing helpful strategies that have worked for you. They may or may not work for someone else, but that’s up to them.

3. Make Digital Detox Fun

Unplugging can be fun. The actual re-engagement with people around you is pretty darn cool. Your friends / partner / kids may actually want to talk to you if you’re not staring into a gadget! No one wants to unplug if it feels like a chore. Heck, why would we? There’s an entire world of interesting topics at our fingertips - most of us likely don’t want to put that down to merely stare into space.

Get people on board and make it into a game of Phone Stack. Let’s say you and your friends are out at a restaurant. Get everyone to agree on emphasizing real human engagement during the evening. Once you’ve cleared that hurdle, everyone’s cell phone gets stacked up and the first to reach for their gadget pays a consequence - the tab, perhaps a round of drinks. What if you’re at someone’s home? Have everyone ditch their phones in the entryway, and the first to crack has to make dinner, put the baby to bed, or clean the toilet! Make the rules however you’d like, just go for it and have some light hearted fun!

4. Judgement Doesn’t Help

While you’re trying to rub these habits off on others, remember that just a short while ago you were hooked on the social media and technology fast track. While you may be reaping the benefits of unplugging now, try to consider those who are still plugged in without judgement. No one likes being wrong. No one likes feeling like they’re wrong. And there really is no ‘wrong’ when it comes to our relationships with social media and technology. Now that you’ve figured out your own personal balance, try to give time and space for others to experiment with theirs.

Behind the Wheel

Taking charge of your relationship with social media and technology is like taking the wheel of an enormous ship. But even if you’re in the captain’s chair, it’s important to ask yourself: when it comes to the information the sea is giving you, are you reacting to what comes your way or responding?

There’s a world of difference between responding and reacting to external stimulus. To understand what this is, we need to look closer at the physiological changes that occur in our body when it’s subjected to sensations like a tiny vibrating machine in our pocket. A reaction is when we’re threatened and experience the urge to fight, flight or, freeze. A response is when we feel safe and in control - our body’s alarm settings are calm and we have time to make an educated choice about what to do next.

The turn of the 21st century is experiencing the advent of heightened dependence on technology and social media. And here’s the best part, the cold hard truth: we’re both the ingenuitive scientist and the experiment itself.

The powerful pull of social media and technology and its addictive nature, its irresistible tendencies, means that most of us are reacting to it rather than responding. We’re constantly at its beck and call, wondering about it, or actively avoiding it. By cultivating thoughtful responses to this force, we can still interface with all the domains, the apps, the beeps, and the tweets, yet we can avoid becoming programmed by them.

Even though we’re engrossed in an international study of human behaviour, we’re still the programmers.

Not the program.

Now that we know we’re all in this together, I say to you...

We can influence this trend. We can manipulate the results of this grand experiment to suit our needs, our habits, and our tendencies. Let us respond rather than react. Let us methodically shape the future of technology into terms that suit us on a daily basis. As we actively mould our small interactions with these huge forces, we’re impacting the long term effects of social media and technology on humanity as a whole.

We can keep using these machines and devices that have become such an important thread in the fabric of our society, but let’s make sure they don’t use us.

Let the experiment continue!