“Technology certainly helps us overcome our physical limitations, but we must be careful that new technology doesn’t endanger our spiritual well-being”.- Dalai Lama

The above was an observation made by the Dalai Lama while attending a “Compassion and Technology” dialogue in Europe, meeting with both scientists and other spiritual leaders. The concern is so large that conferences like this now exist, but what does this mean in our own daily lives. While we all interact with technology in different ways, and at different frequencies, the one thing almost all of us have in common is a close connection to our smartphones. In fact, most of us can’t imagine (or remember) what life was like without them. But what are they doing to our spiritual well-being? And how can we learn to use them a little less? These are issues we’re going to take a closer look at here today.

We are connected to our devices at all times of the day – a world of limitless possibilities is at our fingertips. However, studies are increasingly demonstrating how detached we are from one another.

According to a recent poll, American smartphone users check their devices up to 8 billion times per day. Most Americans, however, are unaware of how much they contribute to this trend; according to a recent Gallup poll, 61% of respondents indicated they glance at their smartphones “a bit less often” or “a lot less often” than other people they know.

We’re multitasking in addition to feeling more connected. According to statistics, Americans use their smartphones while doing other things: 89 percent said they use them for leisure activities, 87 percent said they use them when talking to family and friends, and 87 percent said they use them while watching TV. The prevalence of multitasking has resulted in a distracted generation. Your cellphones, tablets, and streaming devices may be depriving you of empathy, solitude, and focus, whether you recognize it or not.

Your Phone and a Loss of Empathy

According to MIT researchers, digital connections and the social robot may provide the illusion of camaraderie without the obligations of friendship. Even though we are tied to one other, our networked lives allow us to hide from each other. Rather than talking, we prefer to text.

The MIT researchers claim that digital devices “enable us to ‘scale down’ interpersonal contact” and appear to offer “greater control over human connections” based on decades of research. To safeguard emotional vulnerability and maintain the paradox of “being in contact with a lot of people but still keeping them at bay,” Americans are increasingly avoiding face-to-face communication and the sound of the human voice.

Worst of all, the study found that “digital natives” — people who have grown up in a culture dominated by technology — are losing their ability to empathize. They point to a research that found a 40% drop in empathy among college students in the last 20 years. Young individuals who lose their solitude also lose the opportunity to learn to appreciate differences and diversity in other people.

Your Phone and a Loss of Solitude

Being alone was synonymous with being isolated from other people only a few generations ago. But, during the last century, technology has shattered the link between true isolation and being alone. Radio, television, and the old-style Walkman were the first.

Then came smartphones, which caused an explosion in a loss of solitude. All of a sudden, we were all carrying devices that allowed the entire world to contact us instantly. We listen to podcasts and music on the go; individuals constantly email and message us; and breaking news and millions of social media updates reach us in real time.

Why is solitude important? You can learn a lot more about that in our post here, but suffice to say without it, we sacrifice physical and mental health. No one is suggesting you become a hermit, but alone time is very important. Your phone often makes that time impossible.

Your Phone and a Loss of Focus

Focus is something everyone knows is very important at times, and it’s frequently something we try to get better at, especially at work. In fact, we even put focus apps on our phones in an attempt to do that. Except often it’s the phone that’s the problem. How many times have you tried to focus on something at work only to be interrupted by pings and bings from your phone signalling someone wants your attention? And it’s a sign of the times when every movie at a movie theater has to begin with multiple reminders to silence your phone because so many of us forget (and many still make use of the phone on silent, even as the movie plays out.)

How to Pay Attention to Your Phone Less

Your phone has its uses, and for some it really is a must. But making less use of them would benefit everyone. Not sure how to do that and still feel safe, connected and not likely to get in trouble with the boss? Here are some great ways to get started.

Calculate how much time you spend on your phone at the moment.

Install a time-tracking app like Moment or (OFFTIME) to track how much time you spend on your phone each day and how frequently you pick it up. This data may appear discouraging at first, but it’s an excellent tool to track your development and increase your motivation to change.

Make a list of specific activities you’d like to accomplish with your free time.

You’ll have more free time if you use your phone less. Much of this will be in small increments, such as when waiting in line or riding the elevator. These are excellent times to take a deep breath and do nothing (which can be a surprisingly relaxing and restorative experience).

You’re also more likely to have longer stretches of time to fill. To avoid turning to your phone for entertainment, prepare a list of several activities you’d like to do with this time — and then set up your environment to make it more likely that you’ll stick to your goals. If you claim you want to read more, put a book on your coffee table so that when you slump down on the couch at the end of a long day, you can see and reach your book. Want to get back to playing music? Take your instrument out of its case and set it up in the hall, where it will be easy to grab whenever you have a few spare seconds. If you want to spend more time with your family or a particular friend, make plans to do so — and put your phone in your pocket or bag for the duration of your time together.

Remove social networking apps from your phone.

Social media apps are the worst when it comes to sapping your time. That’s hardly surprising: they’re made to entice us to spend as much time as possible with them. Why? Because it’s lucrative. Every minute we spend on social media is another opportunity for advertisers to target us with adverts based on the comprehensive personal data we voluntarily supplied. To put it another way, we aren’t the ones who use social networking apps; advertisers are. And what’s being sold is our attention.

This does not stop you from using social media if you so choose. However, if you want to spend less time on your phone, limit yourself to utilizing social media on your computer.

Accomplish whatever else you’ve been meaning to do but haven’t gotten around to.

Make a phone charging station that you can’t reach from your bed. Disable all notifications except phone calls, texts, and calendar events; you can always re-enable them one by one if you miss them; the objective is to start with the bare minimum, emphasizing communication from genuine people trying to reach you directly. Redesign your home screen such that it only shows useful apps, with time-sucking apps (such as email) hidden away in a folder on an interior screen. Get yourself a wristwatch. Invest in an alarm clock that isn’t your phone; otherwise, your phone will be the first thing you reach for when you wake up. Ask people keep their phones off the table during meals and make sure you do the same.

Keep the goal in mind.

One of the reasons our attempts to spend less time on our phones fail so frequently is that we treat them like diets: as acts of self-deprivation. And who enjoys the sense of being deprived? Instead, consider the goal in a more positive light: when we strive to reduce our phone usage, we’re attempting to bridge the gap between how we say we want to live our lives and how we actually live them. We’ll be happier the closer we get.