WIRED WEDNESDAYS: “Don’t Use Your Device When…”


As with most of the principles and ideas in my book, these are oh-so-simple, but not always oh-so-easy!

1: Don’t Use Your Device While Doing Anything Else

To me this seems like a no-brainer, but that turns out to be a highly old-fashioned attitude. The very portability of our devices reinforces our digital dependence by eliminating virtually all barriers to their use–and voilá, a feed-forward loop that has established habitual multi-tasking device usage as the new normal in less than a decade.

Indeed, it wasn’t even ten years ago when you had to go to your desk… or at best to your laptop, sitting over there… to check your email, play solitaire or do that IMDb search. Doing those things was an activity in itself. Today, they have been demoted to a few keystrokes in (or a Siri request of) your handheld device—demi-activities that have insidiously become superimposed onto other activities.

But there’s quite a bit of research to show that multi-tasking is a myth that costs us brain power, and even brain health. In the first chapter of Parenting for Peace I discuss a fascinating study done at Oxford University: they found that when a volunteer subject performed a habitual task on auto-pilot (which is what we do when we multi-task), it resulted in the disengagement of his higher brain centers. This kind of disengagement can lead surprisingly rapidly to diminished brain tissue volume in those areas, which in turn can contribute to cognitive issues and depression. (If you have the book, do read on page 48 about the amazing up-side findings of the Oxford study.)

There’s even research mapping the specific toll taken when we multi-task between two or more screens. (Ignore paragraphs 3 and 4 of this article at your peril; they were a fascinating, cautionary ah-hah for me.)

2: Don’t Use Your Device While in a Conversation

Again, no brainer to me… but damned if I haven’t caught myself sneaking a peek at my phone while my guy is telling me something about his day. (And, vice versa.) How rude is that??! Very. Very very. And yet it has become commonplace—again, the new normal—for someone to engage with a device while (supposedly) engaged in a face-to-face conversation. I like to illustrate the rudeness using this pre-smartphone scenario: Imagine you’re having lunch with a friend and while you’re pouring your heart out to her, she pulls a book out of her bag and starts flipping through it. Ludicrous, yes? Do we think that because it is so small, our engagement with the device won’t be noticed??!

People in Progress

I have recently made a commitment to myself to refrain from breaking my attention from someone who is talking (or listening) to me, in order to glance at my phone or other device.

For one thing, as I discussed last time, regardless of how beguiling it is, what’s on the screen is a counterfeit connection that has actually been found to be associated with feeling ever more isolated. Why would I choose that over a real human who is right here with me seeking to engage?! (I actually think this is a motherlode of a question, to be mined another time.)

It sometimes requires some self-restraint to curb the turn-to-screen impulse, which has become ever more reflexive and automatic. But the entire thrust of my book, my teaching, my coaching comes from a devotion to nurturing healthy brains and social intelligence, so let’s walk my talk, right?

I am constantly reassuring the parents I work with that the Parenting for Peace roadmap isn’t about perfection, not at all. Children don’t learn from our perfection. They learn from our striving—meaning, holding a vision of how we would choose to grow and become fully-expressed, self-mastering individuals.

But make no mistake, your children DO learn from you. In fact, the design for how they will function in the world is mainly based on how you function in the world. And that includes the way in which you demonstrate—that is, teach them—mastery of technology and its devices. My wise colleague Laura puts it so well in just 149 seconds, so I’ll give her the last word today:

Modeling digital mastery for children

Whether you’re curious, captivated or concerned about our digital dependence and device devotion, join me on (most) Wednesdays so we can explore it together. (Sign up here if you want to be sure not to miss anything!) ….. …..

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