Are You Present? Or Are You Digitally Absent?

Digital devices like Smartphones can be a boon if you have a teen/daycare/babysitter you need to stay in touch with, or colleagues who you need to touch base briefly with about something. But apart from specific times and occasions, staying tethered to technology – to social media, dating, and gaming sites – is desensitizing us to our surroundings. The bondage benumbs face-to-face connections, and sets up patterns in the brain that lead to distractive thinking processes.

While not as serious an issue as Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD), a chronic brain deterioration currently being classed as an addiction, with characteristics similar to some forms of substance abuse(1), the kind of habitual distractive behaviour we’re discussing is deeply concerning to many.  One such person is Sherry Turkle, a clinical psychologist and founder of M.I.T.’s Initiative on Technology and Self, whose book: Alone Together, explores the damaging way technology is changing human to human communication.

If, like us, you have similar concerns, and would like to determine your usage and pinpoint the areas, if any, where it’s causing difficulties, please take a minute to answer the questions below.


Section A

  1. I set caps on how much daily, online time I let myself spend. Yes/No
  2. I spend more face-to-face time with others than I do on social media. Yes/No
  3. I turn off the device, including the vibration function, while I’m socializing. Yes/No
  4. I mute the text message sound while I’m socializing.
  5. At subway, bus, or streetcar stops, I look up to see if someone less able needs my seat. Yes/No

Section B

  1. I always carry my Smartphone with me. Yes/No
  2. I keep my device ‘On’, and on the table, or close by while I eat. Yes/No
  3. I answer calls during family time. I.e., picking up the children, talking about the day with my spouse/partner/children, etc. Yes/No
  4. My children/spouse/partner have to call/say my name more than twice before I pay attention to them. Yes/No.
    (How many times do they have to say it? When you go home, ask them the same question and see how closely the answers correspond.)
  5. Friends and family have asked me on more than one occasion to turn off/put the device away. Yes/No

If you had two or more yeses in Section A: “Congratulations”; you’re the one running the device rather than the other way around.

If you had two or more yeses in Section B, your usage is verging on problematic.

If you’d like to wean that usage down and the conflicts you may be creating in and with others:

  • Put a daily cap on time wasters. Cornell’s Higher Education Research Institute is proving it works.(2)
  • Put the device in another room when you’re at home.
  • Turn off vibration/ring function and text message sounds while you’re socializing. Instead, check for messages hourly.
  • Consider turning off “push” email and instead retrieve messages manually when you want to get them.
  • Establish a cut-off time for work-related emails and texts. Consider creating an automated response that you enable after your cut-off time that says you will be checking for messages at such and such a time the following morning. This might help free you up to actually honour your cut-off time.
  • Make a commitment to restocking mental energy everyday. Go for a walk without your Smartphone, or turn off the device and read a book.

As with most things, there is no magic formula to finding the perfect balance, but becoming conscious of your actions and the impact they are having on you and others is the first step. Once you are aware of what you are doing, you will be able to make purposeful choices to make sure you are the one running the show, not your smartphone.



(1)  From a 2012 Psychiatric Review by the U.S. National Society of Biotechnology Information.  Article: Internet Addiction: A Brief Summary of Research and Practice.

(2)  Turkle S. (2011) Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other. Basic Books, New York. N.Y.

(3)  Article from the The Star: Is fighting digital distraction about commitment, not willpower?



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