I was strongly affected by comedian Louis CK’s recent chat with Conan O’Brien about the internet.
“So I decided that I don’t want to be on the internet anymore,” he said to O’Brien. “I don’t like the way it feels anymore, especially in my hand—the device. I don’t like…that I stare into this thing, and it makes me feel upset,” he explained.
But his decision to put away his devices was mostly influenced by his children.
“Sometimes I’ll be with my daughter, and she’s talking to me and we’re talking, and bling my phone goes bling so I just go down like this,” he said, looking at his hand. “And my kids are nice people, so they just wait…. But she dies inside every time I do this.”
As a mom, this sentiment went straight to my heart. I’m all too familiar with interrupting moments with my kids to see why my phone is buzzing or to check out for a few minutes. It’s something that’s bothered me for years, but that I haven’t yet made efforts to address. I also worry about whether I’m teaching my kids to be good stewards of technology in a time where our dependence on it is increasingly rapidly.
There are legitimate reasons for why it’s hard to separate from our phones. Scientists believe that our brains release dopamine—a neurotransmitter linked to pleasure and reward—whenever we check our phones to see if we have a new text, email or social media alert. Many of us are so attached to our devices that we experience “phantom vibration syndrome”—the physical sensation that our phones are buzzing when they’re not even with us.
The checking behavior also takes us out of the present moment, releasing us from feelings of boredom or discomfort—which frankly, can come frequently when caring for children.
But doesn’t the compulsive checking of our devices do the opposite of what mindfulness teaches us—which is to be aware of our bodies and our minds and to focus on one thing at a time? To notice what is happening around us and within us in the present moment?
Our relationships with technology can be tricky. Yes, our devices can become an addictive form of escapism which cut us off from the present and from our relationships. They can give our kids the painful message that they’re not as important as that buzz emanating from our phone. But they can also keep us connected. A short text from a friend helps me feel loved on a tough day. Our cell phones can help keep us safe if we’re lost or experiencing an emergency. And they can even help us be more mindful—I frequently use my phone to listen to guided meditations or to time a period of silent meditation.
For Louis CK, the benefits of ditching the Internet have been profound. “I haven’t Googled anything—I just walk up to people and ask them questions and stuff—which is more fun too,” he said. “I started reading books again. I was on vacation with my daughter, and I read Pride and Prejudice.
His kids have noticed the change too.
He shared an excerpt from a note that his 10-year-old daughter wrote to him recently:
“I am really proud of you for cutting yourself off from the internet and reading an awesome book. I want you to know that what you did means a lot to me, and I really enjoy seeing your pleasure in not constantly being on devices.”
Maybe—at least for me right now—the answer isn’t as black and white as it is for Louis CK. Maybe the answer is to be more intentional about my usage. To be with my kids when I’m with my kids, and to limit my device usage to certain times. I’ve shut off the notifications on my phone, and I’ve already noticed that life is a little more peaceful without all that buzzing.
Thank you for the inspiration, Louis CK.
Author: Lynn Shattuck
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Photo: YouTube Screenshot