THE BLOG
05/21/2013 08:07 am ET | Updated Jul 21, 2013

Unplugged

Getty Images

New York City is known to be electric, and to live in such a city one must learn how to appreciate a faster pace of life. In the last few years, I have found refuge in my Pilates, yoga, spinning, meditation, acupuncture, and (when I'm feeling $flush) massage therapy practice. Yes, you might think that doing all of these activities, combined, is a bit over the top. To me, honestly, they are a sweet concoction of physical and mental joy that keep my stress levels in check, my chakras balanced, and my energy levels way up. This is achieved despite having a high-pressure sales job in one of the most dynamic industries not to mention neurotic parts of the country. Though I like to think that I have done an above average job of keeping sane, I was completely surprised when I realized that I still fell victim to a condition I blame on today's proliferation of mobile technology. Twixters call my illness FOMO. The Urban Dictionary defines it as the "fear of missing out."

For two weeks I had put myself through a mind/body experiment -- no iPhone or iPad usage after 8:30 p.m. or before 45 minutes of waking up in the mornings. The whole point was to slow down, give myself some mind space, learn how to completely check out from the rest of the world and become more present. I was extremely reluctant to try this at first, but my husband was very supportive. For the last few weeks before my experiment, I noticed how he whimpered each time I picked up the phone during quality time. I couldn't really blame him; I would get annoyed too if the person sitting next to me kept asking what just happened on TV. I also had the tendency of halfway listening to him, often asking the same question multiple times. Since I only practiced selective hearing when I was at home (I like to think that I'm all ears at work), I did not see anything wrong until I realized that my attention was being pulled in so many directions between the TV, my iPhone, my iPad, my laptop, and everything else that was going on at home. I was drowning in information overload! When I was offline and not checking email or status updates, I felt anxious, as if I was missing out on something. Consequently, I was constantly plugged in and rarely allowed myself time away to fully reflect or pay 100 percent attention to whatever I was doing at home.

I'm not going to lie: The first night of the experiment was pretty rough. My knee-jerk reaction whenever I had a gap in time, e.g., a TV commercial, silence, or plain boredom, was to pick up my iPhone. I have never been addicted to cigarettes or drugs, but I relate a fraction of what I felt that first night to going cold turkey. The upside though was that Game of Thrones and Mad Men had my full and undivided attention. Before this experiment, I often missed key dialog, symbolism, and underlying meaning simply because I divided my eyeballs between two screens, sometimes three. This time, I watched both shows voraciously and observed every little bit of detail with a brain-o-scope. Once again in my life, I felt like I was back at NYU when I used to watch a lot of Indy films and read books with a highlighter, looking for crazy connections and profound meaning in order to write a mind-blowing paper. During the experiment, I even started an experience journal, something I have wanted to write in years. It contains a chronicle of restaurants, shows, and exhibits I have experienced. My husband and I also did crossword puzzles in bed one night, completely digital-free. Suddenly, I had all of this free time to do things out of the norm, and slowly I started to notice how I looked forward to the clock turning 8:30. When I unplugged those few hours before bed, I felt completely liberated from the shackles of mobile technology.

In today's world, we are constantly connected in a multi-screen environment. Each night, we open different windows to the world and allow a barrage of information to spill in from emails, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Flipboard, etc., sometimes all in unison, from multiple devices. We no longer have to wait to boot up our computers; we have instant gratification with a click of a button. For some like me, the workday is no longer from just 9 to 5. Instead of completely letting our minds rest at home, many of us continuously work by reading and responding to email after hours. Advertisers and marketers are completely capitalizing on this new behavior. Some have even dubbed it the age of the "splinternet."

As part of my work, I attended the Mobile Marketing Association Conference in New York a little over a week ago. For two days, marketers and vendors shared best practices on how to grab users' attention and, more importantly, keep them engaged for as long as possible. Whether it was through rich media ads that begged you to click, mobile coupons to get you to the cash register faster, geo-fencing to track your location to recommend a restaurant nearby, or utility apps developed by brands to gain customer loyalty, mobile users are being targeted... heavily. Who can blame marketers though? Americans who own smartphones or tablets spend, on average, two hours and 38 minutes a day "glued" to their mobile devices (CNNMoney). According to eMarketer's forecast on mobile users, the number of U.S. smartphone users will increase from 140 million to 207.4 million between 2013 and 2017 and will experience double-digit growth through 2015. [1] Next year, half of the U.S. population will use a smartphone.

Post-experiment, I have wandered into emails, browsed the Internet, and looked at my favorite apps after 8:30. However, I did tweak some of my old habits. I have stopped checking emails the minute I wake up. Before I start my day, I now give myself plenty of time to recalibrate before I let anything in from the outside world. When I view my shows, I watch them with 100 percent of my attention. When I am in bed reading a book or spending quality time with my husband, I no longer reach for my iPhone every 20 minutes. Two years into my marriage, I may have discovered the new secret sauce for a happily ever after: Limit thee smartphone usage, my friends. I know my peace of mind, at least, thanks me for it.

Reference:

1. McCarthy, Alison. (April 26, 2013). US Mobile Users: 2013 Forecast and Comparative Estimates (eMarketer). http://totalaccess.emarketer.com/Reports/Viewer.aspx?aol&R=2001101

For more by Alyssa Lauren Stone, click here.

For more on unplugging and recharging, click here.

Subscribe to the Lifestyle email.
Life hacks and juicy stories to get you through the week.