Locking gazes with someone is remarkably beneficial. A study found that it makes us more selfless and empathetic. We're more likely to remember the details of the interaction with that other person after the fact. But to truly reap the benefits of looking into another's eyes, you have to put the phone down.
In this age of constant and seemingly never-ending connectedness, the act of proverbially logging off might seem like too much of a personal commitment. And quite frankly, that's because it is. The modern smartphone has ostensibly changed the way we work and how we socialize, and too often we can become caught up in the ritualistic mindlessness of scrolling through social media feeds and watching other people's lives acted out through video stories.
It's called escapism
I'm not surprised by the studies that show we're a technology obsessed society, or that there are so many of us who spend time on it in an attempt at evading what ails us, or what bores us. This is called escapism. At present, some of us are avoiding politics, while others are avoiding more serious threats to our emotional or physical well-being. Life is tough! But at least there's the internet.
I'm of the belief that there is such a thing as productive escapism, however, so I've started escaping to the woods. It's just as good for you as staring into someone's eyes, and it doesn't require socializing. Rather than go on Twitter, Instagram, and any of the other social networks that I've pinned to my home screen, or read through my long lists of bookmarks from the failing New York Times, I've opted to spend more time outside — away from the news, away from the people on the internet, and away from my smartphone.
I've opted to spend more time outside — away from my smartphone.
This is a difficult practice for me. I'm a gosh darn millennial who's had a computer in front of her for most of her life. The computer — which later became the internet — was my escape from the doldrums of being a teenager in the suburbs; from the heartbreak of failed assignments in college; and now, from the stresses of the day-to-day. Old habits die hard, and mine is to scroll endlessly through social media on my smartphone as I lay in bed, paralyzed by the fear of the unknown.
I've found refuge in the great outdoors, however. I use Google Maps to get where I'm going, but when I'm there I switch to the radio and set my Pixel XL to do not disturb. I bring a book or magazine to peruse — something to keep me occupied. I sit outside with my cheese and crackers, and I remain present. The only distractions here are the bugs buzzing near my ears...and my food.
Of course, you can find other hobbies of your own, if sitting outside is simply not your thing. But I encourage you to start a practice of disconnecting from your smartphone and any other internet-connected device at least once a week. Start with half an hour. While you're out, revel in the present; in the people around you, or the animals joyfully wagging their tails. And remember to breathe, because life still goes on even if you don't have your smartphone.