So much has changed since the late 1980s and early 1990s some people had a cell phone the size of a sub sandwich, and phone boxes and antennae were installed in cars so people relationships could have a “car phone.”
It has almost fully become a new world since then. The world now revolves around smartphones. These are now barely used as phones, but rather pocket-sized computers.
As a therapist, I have seen a common theme in people’s (often unconscious) allure to repeat elements of the lives they were raised with. For people born roughly before 1990 (maybe a bit earlier), when they think back to their childhoods, the images that stick out don’t involve computers or cell phones. There was less to be distracted by and more focus on the present.
The ideals that I often see in sessions are very similar (each having its unique variations). The majority of people want a spouse or life partner, many (not all) want children, a house or large apartment, vacations, secure career or job, and friends. But most also want connection as part of this. Not via a cell phone or Internet, but emotional connection with families, friends, partners, spouses, and children.
People now have so much access and connection to other interests that it has become easy to lose sight of and become distracted from these goals and ideals. For those who are in relationships, significant attention and time spent on social media (including texting, or similar) are distracting from the connection-potential of relationships. For those who are single, it’s become much easier to fall into a daily rhythm where the companion is the smartphone or computer.
The tendency for people to isolate has significantly increased, not because it’s desired, but because it’s just too easy now. There may still be the desire for a relationships, but it’s become harder to become as motivated when it’s so easy to self-entertain now.
Are Our Smartphones Helping us Live in an Alternate Reality?
The Internet and smartphones have essentially become a way of living life in an alternate reality. How much attention is spent playing with a computer or cell phone rather than spending time with family or friends, or interacting with other people in passing, or on public transit? How often are we out with a person or people and find ourselves answering text messages (or watching others answer theirs), or looking at social media?
There are definitely benefits to having the access we have now. But for people striving for lives that mimic an age where the most extended access was a cordless or a corded telephone, people find themselves dreaming of realities that are hard to fit into today’s reality. The result is an increase in disappointment in relationships and experiences when things aren’t the way they had imagined life would look like. It can be lonely at times when you have 2,000 friends on Facebook; however, when wanting to hang out in person no one is there because we’re not used to being in person anymore.
We feel comforted having many friends in our Internet world, but often we forget about creating a network in our non-virtual world as well. Reality has undergone a substantial change, and now we’re left to decide how much we want to shape our realities to fit our ideals, reshape our ideals to fit today’s realities, or some of both.
Obviously, the answer isn’t necessarily to abandon our social media gadgets. The trouble comes when our doses of alternate reality and real life become out of balance to the point where the alternate reality takes over. We find ourselves interacting more with the technology in front of us — even if there’s a person on the other side — as opposed to live people, including our families.
Consider using the actual phone function more often to talk with your friends. If you’re overusing your devices, scheduling and limiting your time could be helpful. Perhaps scheduling your other activities at specific times so it brings you back into the present and away from your device can help. Or there’s always the full disconnect of leaving your phone at home. These are just a few possible ways to disconnect from the alternative world to reconnect with the present environment (and hopefully the people in it).
In the end, a little disconnection hopefully will pave the way for a reconnection to those ideals and goals that are most important to you, even if those ideas were created in a world vastly different from the present.