by Nancy Proctor, BSN, MAE, BVHS Patient Experience Manager & Educator
Recently during an education session I presented, a gentleman sitting in the front row never looked up from his phone once—an entire 90 minutes. This reminded me that many believe our society is more connected than ever due to technologic advances. If by “connection” we mean access to and ability to share information, it is quite true. However, as human beings we could not be more disconnected at this time.
Many neuroscientists believe our survival depends on human interaction, which creates trust and connection. This connection takes place because of brain cells called “mirror neurons” that activate when we are physically present with each other. It is because of these neurons that we have the ability to be empathetic, compassionate and supportive. Our social bonds are damaged due to refusing to “unplug.” In short, technology is terrible for connection. Words are only 10 percent of what creates communication and dialogue; with technology, not only do mirror neurons fail to activate, we also miss out on 90 percent of what constitutes communication, including body language and tone of voice. As a result, we increasingly misinterpret people’s intentions. Additionally, we gain false courage and have the potential to hurt others as we communicate while hiding behind technology.
Technology has allowed us to fool ourselves into thinking we are being more productive and performing at our peak due to our ability to multitask. Adam Grazzaley, author of “The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High Tech World,” has concluded that when we multitask with multiple media while simultaneously focusing on work, a project or even an in-person interaction with someone, everything we do takes 25 percent longer, and it could take up to 30 minutes to return to our task, rendering us much less productive. Additionally, splitting our attention usually leads to mistakes, which further compromises performance.
Multitasking is rewiring our brains so that instead of all parts working in harmony with each other, the right and left halves of the brain attempt to divide and conquer thus working independently and often “misfiring” within the prefrontal cortex, which is where our logical and rational thinking takes place. To paraphrase Gazzaley, multitasking with multiple media is hurting our ability to think in important ways. While multitasking, we struggle to pay attention, recall information or complete one task at a time. Multitasking ultimately decreases performance, productivity and results. In short, the minds of multitaskers do not perform optimally. As a society, we are in essence creating our own cultural attention deficit disorder.
When we multitask or rely on technology to take the place of real human interaction, we never truly connect. We are wired in such a way that our well-being depends on our connections with others. It does not matter how technologically sophisticated we become; connectivity remains a core part of being human. Our survival depends on trusting, supportive relationships as well as being physically present and genuinely interacting with others.
What can you do to combat this issue? Here are some suggestions:
- Make it a point at least once a day to “be present.” Do not send emails or texts; instead, speak with someone in person. Make eye contact, smile, affirm what they say and listen empathically. Use and read real facial expressions instead of emojis.
- Set certain times during the day to be online, then unplug. Truly listen and engage in meetings, conversations and work projects. If you are in the audience during a presentation, workshop or conference, put your devices away. Focus on one thing at a time.
- To reduce compromising relationships and negative technological interactions, remind yourself that if you are typing a message you would never say to someone in person, you probably should not be typing it. Additionally, you should never send a difficult message or one that will change someone’s life over text, email or any other media.
- Know when work is over and when it is time to be home with family or friends. Cultivate those relationships.
- Spend time in nature or at events without continually taking and sending pictures and videos– just be present.
To conclude, consider the words written by Antoine de St. Exupery in “The Little Prince”: “In this age of social media and communication by texting and Twitter, really looking at each other is a crucial and sometimes fleeting experience…without the first step of engaging with each other, we can never hope to understand or relate to one another in the physical realm.”