On smart communication

December 15, 2018

How important is it to look at someone when talking to them, when trying to convey a message? How about using a smiley face emoji or thumbs up? Is it enough to communicate our emotions using a brief text and an exaggerated emoji?

No doubt the world around us has changed in the way we communicate with the use of smartphones. But we may need to change our current mode of communication so that we can be happier and healthier.

I feel like an outsider when it comes to cell phone use, because I don’t currently own a smartphone. Yup, I’m a flip-phone guy. My personal experience as an outsider has been unique. I am often labeled as odd because I don’t own a smartphone. I can see the world changing around me regarding communication and it is kind of scary.

I’m not a smartphone hater and it is possible I may end up owning a smartphone in the future. I’m more of a concerned citizen wishing others would practice common sense with smartphones and communicate in a more engaging way.

For example, it is difficult for me to feel comfortable driving on a freeway when I see another driver staring down at a phone rather than the road. Or, watching a couple on a date looking at their phones instead of each other — so sad.

I’m troubled at the influence cell phones can have on personal communication, relationships, and one’s mental health. And like others, I’m concerned the impact on our abilities to relate with empathy, introspection, creativity, and intimacy.

Natural human interaction is comprised of several important components. We use body language, tone, cadence, volume, and facial expressions. Studies have shown that we express more through body language than with words. If all you use is a cell phone to communicate, you may be missing out on what is really being expressed.

Research has shown that smart phones can also have addicting components. Increased cell phone use can lead to increased stimulation in the pleasure centers of our brain, leaving us with wanting more.

Unrealistic rewards in many cell phone games activate our brains’ reward systems. How much of a reward do you think is realistic for lining up a few pictures and making them disappear? I wish I could earn a tangible 200,000,000 gold coins every time I lined up 3 balloons and made them pop.

Many people become anxious about being bored without a phone, and some don’t want to deal with bored whining children. Studies show our brains benefit from down time, or boredom. Our brains can be recharged per se.

If my kids are bored, I don’t have to provide a solution that involves a screen. I’ll let them figure it out. They can use that wonderful thing we call imagination. And if they can survive, so can you.

So, what do we do to change our smartphone habits? Here are a few suggestions that may help you improve your communication, relationships, and may even help reduce anxiety, stress and isolation.

n Take the challenge to put down your cell phones and have a real conversation at meal times.

n Set limits to length of cell phone use during the day.

n Take a break from, or cancel, social media accounts.

n Download an app to set time limits and restrictions for cell phone use.

n Let other people know about your plan and goals to limit or change your cell phone habits and challenge them to do the same!

n Set boundaries with friends, family, and work; you may end up finding yourself with less stress and anxiety.

n Engage in a hobby. Maybe try something you have never done, or you would like to do more of.

These suggestions may be difficult at first, but you can do it! I would list more, but then I might be depriving you of the opportunity to use your imagination, and we certainly don’t want that.

Daniel Park is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), native to Idaho, and has worked in mental health for over 10 years. He got his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Boise State University.

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