(Note: For the next few weeks, I am going to be posting about the rituals and boundaries I, personally, use to keep technology from overtaking my life.)
“Sit. Feast on your life.”
– Love After Love, Derek Walcott
It’s halfway through January. The time when the joy and newness of the year has started to wear off. When the resolutions we so carefully chose have begun to fall by the way side. Yet, the month isn’t over yet, and there’s something about January, that for me, still seems bright with possibility and things to come. Perhaps it’s the new eyes filled with hope for what is to come, what is laid out before me for the remaining eleven months, that increases my awareness and makes me see things from a fresh perspective. That heightened awareness made me notice something the other day, while having lunch, solo, at one of my favorite SoCal spots.
Anyone who reads this blog, knows I love technology. I embrace and accept it in many parts of my life. But I am also tuned in and aware of my technology use. Yes, there are times I use it as a distraction…a mindless scrolling exercise through all things Facebook or Instagram, to avoid doing something I don’t want to do, or perhaps to feel connected in social situations when I’m flying solo. So turning to my phone, while dining alone, would easily be understood and accepted. But here’s the deal…I have certain rules or rituals around technology and one of my big ones is no usage at mealtime. No phones at the breakfast, lunch or dinner table…even in a public place on my own, the rule applies. So instead of hiding my face in my phone, I notice the world around me and when my meal arrives, enjoy it with my full attention (instead of looking down at an empty bowl and realizing I never tasted a bite, because I was busy scrolling, texting or searching online while eating).
So while I sat there at the Veggie Grill last week, I happened to notice that every single person in the restaurant, save two (and myself…so a total of three), were heads down with their attention on their phones. Now these were not just the people eating alone, like me. These were people sitting with others, waiting for their food or enjoying their meal together. The only people not on phones were the cutest little boy, who looked to be about two, joyfully jogging laps around the restaurant laughing all the way. He stopped to look at me, I waved, he smiled and giggled with a joy that was palpable. His parents were watching him, while both deep in conversations on their phones. The other non device focused person appeared to be about eighty. A kind elderly woman, being taken to lunch by what looked like her son and daughter-in-law. I think she was having the same realization as me, because she looked my way and smiled.
That was it. Me, an eighty year old woman, and a two year old little boy…the only people not lost in their devices, in a restaurant filled with customers. Now I don’t want you to mistake my observation for judgment. I have no way of knowing whether these people were conscious technology users, who only had an hour in the middle of a busy work day, to turn to their phones and get some personal things done. Perhaps the mother deep in conversation was talking to her realtor about a new house they were preparing to make an offer on. I have no way of knowing what compelled each person to use their phones over lunch, and it doesn’t really matter.
What I do know is that neuroscience shows there is no such thing as multi-tasking. The human brain does not multi-task, instead it task switches, which means it quickly switches from one task to another. We can’t hold two tasks in our brain at the same time. While some people’s brains are faster at task switching (so it might appear they are multi-tasking), and some tasks or combination of tasks are better suited to be switched between more efficiently, all in all, whenever we are task switching, there is an inherent loss of processing ability. In addition, our attention to each task is less than if we simply focused on only one task at a time (ahhh…the beauty of mindfulness). I also know that studies show, families who share meals together feel connected and children (especially teenagers) are more likely to share what’s happening in their lives if they have your full attention on a regular basis. Sadly, the studies also show, with the pace of our busy lives, the family meal seems to be dwindling, and that many family meals (if they do happen) aren’t technology free zones.
What this entire lunchtime observation had me wondering was perhaps people aren’t even aware of how easily they are distracted by their phones…how quickly they fill up empty spaces with online connection. That their hands and eyes are so used to being on their phones, that it’s become second nature, and appears in all moments of their lives, including mealtime. That to choose to focus on one thing…to choose to eat a meal without a distraction…whether with another person or alone…requires first the awareness, then making the choice, and, finally, putting your phone away. Maybe some of those urgent things you’re working on over lunch, aren’t so urgent, and if you turn it all off for a while, they will resolve themselves, or you might come up with a better solution, if your brain has a break. If you can bring your attention to the one thing in front of you (which for me happened to be a yummy kale quinoa salad) you can more full enjoy it. That taking the time to notice and nourish your body, without trying to multi-task, may translate to more overall awareness of your body, in general.
Perhaps if your eyes are up in a busy restaurant on a random Wednesday, you will get a glorious smile from a precious little boy and a beautiful old soul, that fills your heart with gratitude for humanity. Who knows. Perhaps your biggest hunger isn’t for a specific food, but to quietly sit and share a meal with yourself or others, without feeling pulled to reply or respond to someone not present at your table.