In this plugged- in, hyper-connected world, we need time to give our minds a break. We need to unplug to create sacred spaces – time apart from technology and information overload. Yes, I get the irony that I’m writing a blog about this and, hey, you are reading it! So, we are in this together! 🙂 To be clear, I’m not saying that we need to unplug altogether or toss out our smartphones. When benefit from our screens for sure, but there can be too much of a good thing.
I don’t mean “sacred” in any particular religious sense of the word. Rather, I mean times and places apart from our screens to be used for introspection, contemplation, creativity, reflection, and connection to others, the world around, and the present moment. Also, it’s even important to be bored at times. When we are bored, we have room to daydream, ponder, and come up with creative ideas.
Digital Immigrants vs. Digital Natives
I can say that I am a digital immigrant, which means that I grew up before the Internet (as we know it), ubiquitous home computers, smart phones, and social media. Although my Generation X had video games and some folks had home computers (including me as a young teen), we were not “connected” digitally in the way that we are these days. In contrast to digital immigrants, digital natives have basically always had access to computers and the Internet (with current teens having grown up in a world of smartphones and social media).
This isn’t to judge the younger generations for their levels of screen use. Honestly, my generation knows this to be true – the only reason we weren’t using smartphones, social media, and playing Fortnite on Xboxes as kids and teens is because we didn’t have them! Moreover, many digital immigrants are using screens at levels that rival digital natives. So, adults of my generation are in no position to judge.
Why not just accept that we are always plugged into our devices? That this is just that the way things are? To make an analogy, there have always been cars so we can’t imagine riding in a horse-drawn wagon through the elements for days to go a hundred miles. Younger generations who have grown up as digital natives might think of unplugging for a while like trying to ride a horse to visit a friend instead of driving. Why would anyone want to do that? So, the younger generation (and older generations!) might not see the benefit, nor the need, to disconnect from screens.
Yet, a strong case can be made for putting away our devices and unplugging periodically throughout the day. We did not evolve to live in the world in which we now live. Thus, from an evolutionary standpoint, we are all digital immigrants. For instance, as adults, we still need around eight hours of sleep per night. This need hasn’t changes just because we have electricity, the Internet, social media, email, and Netflix to keep us up late. According to a 2013 Gallup poll, 40% of Americans average less than 7 hours of sleep per night. Thus, our need for sleep has not changed although our reasons to stay awake have increased markedly. We pay a steep price for not getting enough sleep in terms of physical and mental health.
Indeed, many physical and mental health problems emerge due to this evolutionary mismatch. For around 300,000, home sapiens basically lived in small, nomadic, hunter-gatherer tribes. Consider that for most of our existence as sapiens:
- We lived in small groups of less than 150 people.
- All social interaction took place face-to-face.
- We were fairly active (not near as sedentary as we are today).
- We generally slept at night, when we were tired, and awoke when our bodies & brains were rested.
- We spent ALL of our time in nature – we were very much a part of it.
- Life was relatively quiet most of the time – no earbuds with music playing, no digital noises, no traffic, airplanes, push notifications, text alerts, buzzing phones, and so on. The only sounds we heard were from nature and each other.
Just as both the types and quantities of foods we eat these days has contributed to an obesity epidemic in America, the way we consume digital information and check our devices can contribute to similar health problems. In both cases, there is an evolutionary mismatch between how our ancestors lived and how we are currently living. While we don’t need to give our devices entirely (an impossibility these days!), we do need to use them mindfully and strategically in order to minimize some of the negative effects that come from overuse. Creating sacred times and spaces can help us do just that.
The Power of Focused Attention
To be productive in life and form deep, meaningful connections with others, we must be able to maintain focused attention. In our hyper-connected world, we have grown accustomed to jumping from one information bit to another: from tweet, to text, to Facebook, to news push notifications, to checking the weather, to listening to our favorite music or playing our favorite game, and so on. Too often this frequent jumping around can interfere with our in-person relationships, known as technoference, as well as our productivity. Creating sacred spaces and times allows us to practice our focused attention. This, in turn, allows us to deepen our relationships and be more productive.
With smartphones, wearables, digital assistants like Alexa, and other devices, our unplugged time is shrinking. The good news is that we don’t have to radically change our lifestyles to gain the many benefits of unplugging. A few strategies to create sacred spaces can yield large returns. In my next blog, I will provide some tips on how to unplug to create sacred spaces.