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Saturday, July 13, 2024

Is it possible to unplug?

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We live in a world today in which we are connected by technology 24/7. 

Our cellphones and laptops are practically other appendages. Is it possible for people to unplug from their devices to enjoy dinner together, to have a conversion, to go on vacation and really see, hear and smell our environment? Can we fully enjoy ourselves without the interruption of the cellphone? Have we gotten to the place where we have replaced “high touch” with high tech?

When I teach my 6 p.m. class for two hours and 40 minutes, I have noticed over the past five years or so that my students no longer take their 15-minute break halfway through class to go get a drink, snack or go to the restroom. More than 90 percent of them remain in the classroom and spend the entire break time on their cellphone. Wow, have times changed!

I receive texts and emails from overseas at all hours of the day and night. Students email me their homework or questions overnight, and they expect me to respond at 3 in the morning. The question I’d pose is: When should we respond to work emails? When you’re thinking about it, after you receive it or the next day? Maura Thomas’ 2015 article in the Harvard Business Review argues, “Being ‘always on’ hurts results.” She adds, “Experiments have shown that to deliver our best at work, we require downtime.”

While on vacation last week with my grandson, I watched several people on their cellphones and laptops returning emails and work-related phone calls, not fully relaxing on their vacation. They should have been enjoying the most beautiful hole in the ground I have ever seen: the Grand Canyon.

I believe we have become so addicted to our cellphones and unable to remove ourselves from work during our off time because we think we are going to miss something. What we are really missing is what is happening right in front of us!

According to a 2017 survey published by the American Psychological Association, technology has improved life for Americans — so much so that studies show many adults as well as children cannot imagine life without their smartphones. Yet, at the same time, the report points out that numerous studies “have described consequences of technology use, including negative impacts on physical and mental health.”

I was getting by with my flip phone until two years ago, when my students convinced me to come into the 21st century and get a smartphone. Now that I have had an iPhone for the past two years, I must admit to my own addiction to this plastic appendage. I used to be able to go on vacation and enjoy seeing all that our country and our world have to offer without checking my smartphone every five minutes for emails or text messages.

I miss that, and I have now recommitted myself to putting my smartphone down to enjoy the things that I have been missing right in front of me. I have also asked my three grandsons to put their technology aside while we are together eating a meal, and let us just talk to one another and enjoy our conversations.

I challenge you to do the same. I know habits are hard to break, but unplugging from our cellphones more often and enjoying our loved ones will have more benefits that are positive for all of us.


Darrell Brown, Ph.D., is a clinical associate professor of management and director of diversity at Indiana University Kelley School of Business Indianapolis.

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