Did you know that our smartphones are offering us an unexpected way to become even smarter?

At our family gathering on Thanksgiving, my son-in-law Mark looked out over the living room and then turned to me and laughed. At this particular moment everyone in front of us was on their smartphones. Luckily this was a brief occurrence.

Mark then shared with me the story of a time recently when he was on a business trip and sitting by himself in a pub having a drink.  He looked down the bar and noted that all the other customers were all were on their phones – reading email, texting, reading the news or whatever.

We’ve all been in these situations – a social setting where people are not interacting with one another but rather are interacting with their devices. I’ve both witnessed everyone else looking down and at times I was one of those people.  To me, these moments are simultaneously funny and sad.

Why this new “addiction” to our phones? There are plenty of  authors and social scientists who have written about this phenomenon. This useful article from WebMD even points out that what we are witnessing may not be a true “addiction” in the strict sense of the word — yet.

Yes, there are legitimate times we should grab our phones and use them for some important purpose even when we are in the midst of a crowd of people. And, most of us know that there are real obvious moments when it would be rude to be talking on our phone – such as when you are in tight quarters around others — in restaurants, in the theater, on an elevator, etc.

Yet there’s also a fine line we sometimes cross when we leave the realm of using our phones to meet a truly important need and move into using them as a type of social crutch. As the WebMD article suggests, ” Be conscious of the situations and emotions that make you want to check your phone. Is it boredom? Loneliness?”

One of the toughest situations we all face is when we are “alone in a crowd”. You all know the feeling – there are people all around you, talking and laughing and enjoying themselves – but you’re not with any of those people. You are there “by yourself” and in your mind you are feeling very isolated and alone.  You fear that these other people will notice you and judge you negatively in some way.

It’s very tempting in such moments to turn to our phones for solace. “See, I have friends! They’re right here on my phone communicating with me!”

Turning to our phones to reach out to our “comfortable friends” may bring us quick relief and not make us feel so socially isolated. But it’s also turning us away from the world in front of us and the opportunities being presenting for face-to-face social connection.  In such moments, we need to muster up the strength to turn off our phones and use this as an opportunity to grow psychologically and to connect with others in a new way.

Becoming Smarter than Your Phone

Our “smart devices” are truly modern marvels and enhance our lives in so many ways. We can access immediately a world of information, work smarter and faster and can quickly communicate and connect with others anywhere in the world.  In some ways, the imagined future is truly here and we should be thankful.

But there are limits to these instruments.  Technology is a tool to improve our lives, not a crutch to protect us from our lives.

We are all here, in my belief, to personally grow and evolve.  This personal evolution ultimately involves our recognizing that everything is connected, that we are here to identify our life purpose and to begin fully living it in service to this greater one of which we are a part.

Yet there are many intermediate growth opportunities for us along this greater journey.  Our emotions guide us towards these chances to learn. Those uncomfortable moments when we feel lonely or bored are really gifts on our path if we are open to receiving them.

Can we push through our discomfort in such moments to be OK with appearing to be “alone”? Can we let go of the sense of what “others think”? Can we find the strength within ourselves to reach out and make new connections with the people who are in front of us?

When we pay attention to our feelings and follow their guidance, they allow us to develop our human “emotional intelligence” — a type of wisdom that is far beyond the capabilities of our smartphones. 

Some Smart Tips

So how can we reframe these into “teachable moments”?  Here’s a few steps to consider:

  • Pay attention and notice when you are in social settings and wanting to use your phone to avoid being alone or bored. Avoid grabbing your phone.
  • Feel into any emotions that are coming up for you and identify what they are (such as — concern for what others might be thinking about you, fear of talking with someone you don’t know,  feeling valuable and worthy only when you are “doing something”, etc.).
  • Ask yourself what it would be like if you didn’t have the fear or belief that you identified. (such as — what would it be like if I didn’t care what others were thinking about me, what would it be like if I wasn’t afraid to talk to a stranger, what would it be like if I knew I was worthy even if I am sitting here doing nothing, etc.).
  • Feel into the freedom and wisdom of releasing your emotional concerns around being alone or bored.  In other words, sit there and imagine what your life would be like if you did not have your limiting belief or fear.  Imagine it gone and that you can now look around the room with a new strength and comfort.
  • To the degree possible, embody this new freedom.  Know that it doesn’t matter what others think of you. Know that if you want to talk with others, you can freely choose to do so without concern as to how they respond. Know that you are valuable and perfect just the way you are and you don’t need to be doing anything to maintain that perfection.
  • Look around you with eyes of love knowing that every person around you is on the same journey and has to move through the same fears and concerns.  Open your heart of compassion for everyone there.
  • If possible, choose to interact with others around you from this higher perspective.

If you can move through these steps, you will realize that your smartphone has assisted you on your journey to becoming even smarter.

Here’s knowing you feel joy in your life!

Mark Gilbert

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If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out Mark’s books available from Amazon.

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Photo credit: corinne glaziou / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA