It’s no secret that I’m totally reliant on my electronic devices. In fact, I wrote an article for YouBeauty last year about an experiment to nix social media for a week. I nailed the task, but sunk back into my junkie-like addictions within a month’s time.
The truth is, technology makes me feel secure. I like knowing what’s going on in my friends’ lives, keeping up with old classmates and feeling as if I have more friends by using social media. (The numbers say so, right?)
But something happened to me recently that kind of changed my life. Rather than giving up Facebook for Lent (been there) or promising not to check email for the weekend (done that), I let go of technology for human interaction—and in turn, I tuned into the human spirit.
Taking a Vacation From Technology
Here’s how it went down: I was on a trip to Fiji with five fellow journalists, all of whom were strangers. We were relaxing at the Wakaya Islands Club and Spa, a resort on a tiny island with cozy bures, or cottages, and a village within walking distance. We spent hours gazing upon the crystalline ocean and luxuriating in top-notch service. But there was no way to connect online—and we were all strangers among the locals. I couldn’t rely on a comforting glance at my iPhone during awkward conversation or retreat to my living room to stalk my newsfeed. I had a bar in my room (with champagne!), but no one to share it with and no way to show it off on Instagram. The first day on this island should have been paradise, but it felt more like panic.
Making the Change (And Going Old-School)
But then something happened. Our group of strangers started learning from the locals. People in Fiji don’t walk around with their heads down, furiously texting their friends; they meet them at the dinner table. They look each other in the eye when they speak to you and smile while they’re walking down the street. And they laugh. A lot.
Art Markman, Ph.D., YouBeauty Psychology Advisor, says that human communication, which is the root of our ability to have relationships, is designed for a small number of people to have a face-to face conversation in real time. He explains that one of the reasons why people often feel like the friendships that they carry out online are unsatisfying is because they’re missing what makes communication successful. “If you’re really going to engage in a relationship with anyone, you have to spend time in the same place at the same time,” says Markman. “That means ditching technology—at least for awhile.”
Surprisingly, this way of life crept into our own. The group of journalists began to voluntarily meet for dinner. And dinner led to drinks. We showed up promptly without a text or email to excuse us from being late and began to learn about each other’s lives, venting about breakups and trading advice on raising children. There was no phone to peek at and no voicemails to check.
Markman points out that in our tech-heavy world, we’re all now prone to text-speak chatting that often ends with a smiley face (rather than smiling in person), and because of this, are not as capable at expressing anything complex. When we leave technology out of the picture and focus on human interaction, it promotes a real feeling of closeness that’s often lost with computer-based conversation.
On one early morning, my newfound friend knocked on my hut to see if I was interested in paddle boarding. I immediately thought back to the days when I used to ring my neighbor’s doorbell to see if she could “come out and play.” There’s something so innocent and refreshing about an act where genuine human interaction cannot be ignored.
How To Cultivate Relationships Without Relying on Devices
Before technology, we all had to rely on being responsible. If you were meeting a friend at 5 p.m., you showed up. You couldn’t text or call their cells when running late. The lack of technology forced you to be more dependable, but it also gave people the respect they deserved. Markman says that technology can get in the way because it can cause you to perform actions that will be interpreted as disinterest. If you show up late and think “I can just text,” what you communicate is that what you’re doing is more important than the person you’re with. “When you take tech away, you are removing that potential and you are putting yourself in a situation where you can communicate that they are more important,” he says. Really, it’s all about being present and giving the person you’re with respect.
Bringing This Experience Back Home
I’m back in New York City, and while life is much different than in Fiji, this trip taught me to be more mindful about who (and what) is in front of me. Markman suggested that I do two things to help continue my “Fijian way of life.” First, I am to create tech-free zones in my house, and secondly, to evangelize my experience. I now drop my iPhone in a basket near the front door to be more aware in my home. I look around when I walk down the busy streets (rather than texting) and meet people in person—always ready to share my experience. And I laugh. A lot.