The Importance of Disconnection

“…so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” Romans 12:5

The smartphone revolution is now in its second decade, as well as the swell of social media. These technologies have greatly affect not only cultural norms, but the brains of those who use them constantly. A New York Post survey found Americans check their smartphones more than 80 times a day, on average—about once every 12 minutes.[1]

A recent study by Psychology Today indicated that constant smartphone use impacts productivity at both work and home. On average, a person is 22% less productive when they use their smart phone during break times at work, when the brain would rather be in a natural period of rest before the next concentrated time of engagement.[2] The most highly addicted are checking every four minutes, despite the fact there are no evident notifications for new messages or email. The same survey found 62% of people would rather go without chocolate entirely than to go without their smartphone for one day. Mentally, our ability to be alone has greatly diminished. Anytime we feel alone, we reach into our pocket and use a device to interact in a myriad of ways—and we don’t feel alone anymore. 

Even the word “social” has taken on new meaning. In the past a “social person” had many one-on-one interactions, and was known for attending gatherings of people for the purpose of interaction. Now someone who is “social” may be the person with 1,000 online followers, or someone who received 500 “likes” for a recent post. The idea of real-life interaction has left the definition altogether. Author Sushil Kumar asks the most relevant questions on the topic: “Does our online social life overpower our real social life or supplement it?” and “Is the convenience of digital interaction replacing the intimacy of our relationships?”[3]

Despite living in an “always on” age of a constant electronic worldwide network, as individuals we are perhaps more disconnected than ever before. We spend more and more time disengaged from the “real world” while maintaining the online perception of being connected all the time. Online connectivity is particularly devoid of time and place. In the past, to interact with someone meant you had to meet them at a certain moment and location. Not anymore—electronic connection can happen anytime, anywhere, regardless of a person’s physical presence. Look at your most recent birthday. Are most of the well-wishes in the form of electronic “high fives”? What happened to the gatherings of family and friends to celebrate a moment in someone’s life, and to express the value of their friendship by physically showing up?

Those who are comfortable and enjoy engaging in real-world interaction grow increasingly annoyed with “phone face” friends, who spend most of their time in restaurants, on breaks, or in waiting rooms with their eyes firmly planted in their smart phones. Signs in drive-through windows disallow talking on phones while ordering. And for safety, many states are now passing “hands free” laws that make it illegal to even hold a device while driving. Kumar’s article comments, “In the name of connecting people around the globe, social networking is making an unseen trench between people. Meeting and get-togethers are replaced by social groups and chats. Emotions and feeling are replaced by emojis, and phone calls are replaced by comments.”

Electronic disconnection is something to consider on a regular basis—for a number of hours each day, and/or for a day or more each week. Set aside time to step away from your devices for your mental and physical health. Let me suggest three areas of reconnection that may result when you intentionally take time to disconnect from your electronic life:

Reconnect to quiet. Learning how to be alone can yield positive results for the body and mind. Quiet times in our lives give us the opportunity to think deeply, free from the distractions of our culture. Reading quietly, listening to music, taking a hike—these give us the opportunity to turn our attention to areas of life that don’t reach out to grab our attention. Am I growing spiritually? Am I seeking the right goals and reaching them? Am I paying attention to and building important relationships? Am I working on personal weaknesses? These contemplations happen in quiet times, away from the constant drone of a connected lifestyle. Being alone is not the same thing as loneliness. But it may reveal loneliness if you have difficulty adjusting to being alone for any significant length of time. To reconnect to quiet, plan at least 30 minutes a day of quiet (no devices, television, people). Some will find this time by simply putting down your phone and turning off the TV at least a half-hour before bedtime. 

Reconnect to rest. Both your body and mind need rest. Scientific American’s research notes that downtime for the mind helps “increase productivity, replenish attention, solidify memories and encourage creativity”.[4] The mind today is often in a state of receiving information constantly, which, given the volume, is something it can no longer process effectively. A LexusNexus survey of workers revealed 59% of professionals are overwhelmed by their daily volume of information that it is actually not beneficial to their work.[5]

Rest is a vital need for every person, and especially for the mind. Failing to rest the mind diminishes creativity and lessens the ability to handle complex tasks. The frontal lobe of the brain, responsible for reasoning and solving problems, has its best “a-ha!” moments as it unwinds and is not actively working on a task.[6] To reconnect to rest, consider not taking your device out during your lunch break or other office break time. Or schedule a device-free time in the morning before breakfast. 

Reconnect to people. Having relationships with people, in-person and not electronically, is a healthy lifestyle to adapt. Research by anthropologist Dr. Robin Dunbar found that people could only maintain a social connection with about 150 people at most, due to the size of our brain’s neocortex. In other words, the vast majority of people you call “friends” are simply out of mind nearly all of the time. Your closest “layer” of friendships consists of 3-5 people. These are “vital friendships”.[7]

If you don’t have at least 3-5 in your inner circle, work on turning acquaintances into friends. Grab a cup of coffee, have lunch, join a club or social group, or take a chance and reconnect with someone who may have fallen by your wayside. Making and keeping friends—real friends, not the 1,500 people on your Facebook list—means being available and taking time to connect, in person, regularly.

Reconnect to faith. In recent years, many professing Christians have developed an unhealthy disconnect from their local church, either from a bad experience, or lack of commitment to their community of faith. Sometimes they will say something along the lines of, “I believe in Jesus, just not organized religion.” Yet the Bible conveys that a personal faith attempted in isolation is the exact opposite of what Jesus taught and modeled throughout the New Testament. You were never meant to try faith alone. 

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians contains his appeal to Christians “ that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought” (1 Corinthians 1:10). That kind of unity is impossible outside of vital, personal relationships. Further in Galatians Paul teaches us to “carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). This does not sound like a faith that works well over a smartphone.

To reconnect to faith, first select and attend regularly a Bible-teaching local church. Find a small group that meets weekly where you can open the Bible, pray, and begin to connect with fellow Christ-followers. Follow the Scriptures when it comes to the importance of faith relationships in your life (Romans 12:16, Romans 1:11-12, John 15:12-13, Hebrews 10:24-25, 1 Peter 2:9-10, 1 Corinthians 12:25-27, 1 Peter 4:8-11, Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, Acts 2:42-47).