Guys, smartphones are taking over. This year alone, eMarketer predicts that United States-based smartphone users will spend an average of 3 hours and 5 minutes a day on their phones. This represents a 14 minute increase since 2014.
Aside from taking up a significant amount of time, our smartphone use is drastically affecting two important parts of our lives: solitude and empathy. “It’s not some silly causal effect, that if you text you have less empathy,” MIT social scientist Sherry Turkle explained. “It’s that you’re not getting practice in the stuff that gives you empathy.”
Consequently, a lack of empathy can negatively affect our relationships in terms of how we apologize to one another. “A face-to-face apology is such a classic place where we learn empathy,” the social scientist reveals. “If you’re apologizing to me, I soften because I get to see that you’re genuinely upset — you get to see that I have compassion for you. But if you type ‘I’m sorry’ and hit send, nothing happens.”
While it can be extremely difficult to apologize to someone you care about in a face-to-face scenario, it does help you to improve as a human being. It’s an exercise in empathy, which allows you to better understand the feelings of those around you. All in all, empathy is a wonderful tool that should not be replaced by text messages.
At the same time, Turkle mentions that an apology text shouldn’t be mistaken as a “toxic gesture.” Instead, one should look at an apology text from this perspective: it’s limiting your ability to feel genuine empathy for another person, which is not the best.
When it comes to solitude, the same thing happens. We begin to use our technology as a crutch. “We literally turn being alone into a problem that we want technology to solve,” says Turkle. “We use technology to solve it by giving us something on a screen to take our attention off ourselves.” In other words, loneliness may not feel great in the moment, but it will help you to learn more about yourself. When you’re alone, this gives you the time to explore your own thoughts and to, essentially, get to know yourself.
“Solitude is the capacity to be alone with yourself, to gather yourself and have a sense of ‘Here I am, I’m OK,'” the scientist continues. “You need to be able to sit with your own thoughts and not pull out your phone in order to become the kind of person who can be comfortable and good with people.”
Also, we absolutely love Turkle’s definition of solitude: “[Solitude is] where the knitting together of our stable autobiographical past happens. Those moments of solitude and boredom are where you have an opportunity to knit together who you are, what your history has been.” What a beautiful way to approach the time you have all to yourself.
Even though texting can be a great, instantaneous form of communication, that doesn’t mean that we should forget about face-to-face conversations. After all, there’s nothing better than seeing a smile or hearing laughter when you’re conversing in person.
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