Love the one you’re with! A well-known comedian does a bit as part of his stand-up act where he talks about him and his wife ‘spending quality time together on their phones, at separate ends of the sofa’, and jokes that it’s not his wife’s fault that she’s, ‘not as interesting as a phone. No one is!
The reason the audience roars with laughter, as with almost all observational comedy, is because they’ve ‘been there; they recognise this situation (or a similar one) within their own family or friendship group.
Long gone are the days when we would have to sit in a doctor’s waiting room and read the posters on the walls until we were called, or sit idly staring into space while waiting for a bus – we all have a portable entertainment device on us all of the time…information, gossip and scandal is right there at our fingertips, filling every silent or lonely moment – no matter how brief.
But, somewhere along the way, we’ve stopped just getting our phones out of our pockets if we’re left alone for 30 seconds or have a few minutes to ourselves – or even when our partner nips to the loo in between the starter and main course.
Now we do it whether we’re on our own or not.
What was once the height of rudeness; focusing on something else when you should be giving the person you’re with your full attention, is now the norm – and it’s frighteningly pervasive.
Somewhat sadly, perhaps the comedian has a point – the information we’re bombarded with thanks to the technological age is interesting, and perhaps you would rather read Sky Sports News, check your social media for likes, or watch a funny YouTube video than listen to how your partner’s day at work was, or try and make conversation with them after a long, hard day.
But the scary thing is, modern technology has stopped us living in the moment and appreciating it. As flowery and cliche as it might sound, social media apps, and the TV will almost definitely be there tomorrow – your relationships, or even the people you love themselves, might not be.
And it’s not just the fact that there are an increasing number of people spending more time with their phones than their loved ones. Aside from the fact that you, or someone else in your family or friendship group has to say ‘can you stop looking at your phone, I’m talking to you!’ on a fairly regular basis, studies have shown that too much time distracted by smart technology has made us less empathetic – and less moral.
For example, a recent survey showed that Facebook was cited in one third of all UK divorces.
That’s fucking insane.
But not really a massive surprise.
Infidelity is public enemy number one when it comes to relationships breaking up – but back in the day you had to put some effort in; plan ahead, tell a decent lie, have a good alibi, cover your tracks, make sure you weren’t seen with someone you shouldn’t be with by someone who might recognise you….
These days all you have to do is make sure you delete your messages in case your partner checks your phone.
If it sounds like I’m being glib it’s only because it’s a shocking example of how easy modern technology has made every aspect of life – even the truly awful bits!
Now, our internet addiction probably isn’t going anywhere soon – and the difference it’s made to the way our children will date and conduct relationships compared to us and to our parents and grandparents is only just becoming apparent.
And that’s life; everchanging…in 50 years time it’ll be different again; but, what we can do, is try and ensure that the attention we pay to our relationships, and the attention we pay to that device that is constantly in our hot little hands, can co-exist.
And it is possible, if we practice mindfulness, and appreciate the moment with the people we love.
The bonds we build with the people around us are essential for our mental and emotional health – our brains literally grow and change throughout our lives by staying connected to other people. They say that no man (or woman!) is an island, and even those who appear to be at the top of their game and thriving in life aren’t doing it alone.
Top athletes have coaches, successful business people got where they are because of mentors, good parents have support systems, students who do well academically tend to have parents who are involved in their education…
Positive relationships help us to succeed, grow, and become better people, so how can we practice mindfulness in our relationships with other people in order to fuel that growth?
Make a conscious effort to put the bloody phone down or switch the TV off and pay attention to the person you’re with – whether it’s a romantic partner, your kid, or your friend. Stay present in the moment when they’re talking to you.
Everyone wants to feel valued and appreciated, and if you’re demonstrating that to the person you’re spending time with it will create a deeper and stronger relationship.
‘Mindfulness’ comes from the Sanskrit words ‘attend’ and ‘stay’ – and that’s literally what you have to do. Ignore the ‘ding ding’s’ of social media notifications, texts and emails while you’re spending time with someone…put your phone on silent…
leave it in your bag rather than on the table while you’re enjoying a meal or a coffee together….or turn it over if you know you’re going to be tempted to look at the screen every time it makes a noise – and just be where you are. appreciating the moment you are sharing with another real life human being.
It’s not your fault your mate has tagged you in a ton of memes during dinner is it? Or that your boss has emailed again.
Of course it isn’t. But how (and when) you deal with that is down to you.
Just because technology has made people think we are constantly available, it doesn’t mean we have to be; we can stay in the moment we’re in without being slaves to the ping of yet another piece of information.
Be mindful of how it makes the other person in the relationship feel if you don’t make them a priority when you’re with them – remember how it feels if it ever happens to you!
I’m pretty sure we’ve all been in a situation where we’re happily sharing a moment with someone else, and then looked over and there they are, scrolling through their phone.
There really is no more annoying excuse than, ‘so and so just text me’ or ‘I just wanted to see who had liked that photo I posted.’ Someone who’s looking at their phone while you’re in their company has chosen to do that, it’s not someone else’s fault…and the message it gives is ‘this is more of a priority to me right now than you are.’
Make Them Your First And Your Last!
This example relates mostly to a romantic partner, but the essence of it really applies to all relationships in your life. If you’re living with a partner, say good morning before reaching for your phone…and say goodnight rather than just staring at the TV until you fall asleep.
It all comes under the umbrella of being mindful enough to live in that moment and show the other person that you appreciate that they’re there.
When you meet your mate for coffee, don’t sit down with your airpods still in – take them out before you walk in, and give them a proper greeting. Then leave them in your pocket until you’ve said goodbye and parted ways.
People will always be happier if they feel that you are fully engaged and mindful, and that your mind isn’t distracted elsewhere.
I’ve focused a lot on technology – our phones in particular – because when it comes to bombarding human brains with distracting info, they are the main culprit. But being mindful of living in the present moment, and how that mindfulness can affect our relationships with those we love for the better, is something we should all be working on – whether we’re smartphone users or not.
So, if you’ve read this blog and smugly thought, ‘well, this doesn’t apply to me, I’m still using a Nokia the size of a brick’, don’t think you’re exempt from the lure of outside distractions that are stopping you from being mindful.
Switch off the TV or the radio….put that kindle down….close your book or your newspaper…and really love the one you’re with.