It’s the weekend and you’ve finally made plans to reconnect with your three best friends after a month’s worth of hard work. You get spiffed up, grab your phone, head for the door and meet up at your favorite local restaurant. The four of you hug and sit down and swap stories and then what happens?
If you answered, “There’s a lull in the conversation so I grab my phone and completely zone out,” first of all, we respect your honesty. Second of all, you’re not alone. In fact, if you glance up from your screen, you’ll probably notice that your friends have looked down at their devices, too. Why do we do this, and what can we do to stop it? Fortunately, we have a bit of science to explain the former, and your own gusto to ensure the success of the latter.
Cellphone Use Has a Domino Effect
You can’t blame yourself entirely for your predilection for picking up and glancing at your phone in social settings—everyone does it. Researchers have found that this leads to more cellphone usage.
At the University of Michigan, researchers observed students naturally—that is, not in a controlled study setting—and watched them converse with one another at campus cafes and dining halls. They recorded the students’ cellphone usage at 10-second intervals, even when conversations lasted for upwards of 20 minutes.
They found students checked their phones during about 24 percent of the recorded intervals. However, that number spiked to nearly 40 percent when their companion had just done so in a previous interval. They concluded, therefore, that cellphone use is contagious.
Scientists explained the phenomenon in a few ways. First, they said it was a classic example of behavior mirroring: When one person saw a friend check cellphone notifications, he or she did the same. The behavior also represents a person’s desire to be included in a particular behavior when feeling excluded. If your friend looks at his or her phone and shoots off a text to someone else, you might feel left out. That’s why you whip out your phone and engage in the same social behavior.
Here’s How to Fix It
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to reducing your cellphone usage, but the first step is admitting you can’t seem to put the darn thing down, even when you’re meant to be socializing with your friends and loved ones. With that admission on the table, consider the following four examples of the many methods employed to reduce one’s addiction to tech:
1. Turn Off Notifications
This might seem like a no-brainer, but have you ever actually done it? By simply turning off or silencing your alerts, you’ll be far less likely to reach for your phone and look at something because you won’t know it’s there. If you want to make things even more hidden, slip your silenced phone into your pocket or purse. Without it sitting on the table, staring at you, you’ll be far more inclined to enjoy the present.
2. Ask Your Friends to Participate
We know already that cellphone use is contagious: If you see your friends reach for their smartphone, you’re pretty much guaranteed to do the same. Make a pact next time you all go out that you’ll turn your phones off or store them in an out-of-sight place so you can engage with each other instead of with the internet.
3. Do Something Active
Frequenting coffee shops and vegging out on the couch are two wonderful, relaxing activities to do with friends, but they also leave you with quite a bit of downtime to fill with your phone. Therefore, try and schedule your next social gathering with an active activity in mind.
If, for example, you’re in the middle of the woods searching for geocaches, you probably won’t feel the need to scroll through your social media feeds. You’ll be out on the trail looking for something—and experiencing something—super special in real life instead.
4. Leave It at Home
If all of the above fails you, it might be time to consider leaving your phone at home when you hang out with your buddies. Without the tether to the internet, you won’t look at it. It’s truly as simple as that.
Perhaps once you realize just how wonderful it is to be present, you won’t feel tempted to reach for your mobile phone at all. You’ll just, you know, live instead.
Image: Karsten Seiferlin, CC-BY
Anum Yoon is Paste’s Unplugged columnist and a Philly-based blogger who founded Current On Currency.