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Virtual Versus Actual Reality

Do you feel sweat on your brow, does your heart quicken and your throat contract, does dread and panic spread across your mind and body – when you realize you don’t have your mobile phone? Then you could have Nomophobia.

This mental state, which is not recognized in the current DSM-V, was first labeled by a study conducted in Britain. The term “NO-MObile-PHone-phOBIA” was coined in Britain back in 2010 and was noted to be to be experienced by 58% of men and 47% of women. Steward Fox-Mills explains that “whether you have run out of credit or battery, lose your phone or are in an area with no reception, being phoneless can bring on a panicky symptom in our 24/7 culture.” I have observed this as an apparently severe aliment of the Millennial, but believe more GenXers and Boomers than would like to admit it are probably affected by this phobia every year.

woman smartphoneWhen did we become so attached to being attached electronically? When has a text, a Like, a link, or being Followed become more important than a live connection? When did we become more rewarded and connected to technology versus living breathing beings?

Knowingly or unknowingly technology companies have tapped into our neuropsychology, especially those of us who are extraverts. “Extraverts thus appear particularly sensitive to impulsive, incentive-reward-driven behavior by temperament and by situational factors heightening positive affect,” reports a study in October of 2010. Basically the more immediate the reward, the more the reward is valued. Every time we get a text, a Like, or an email we get a little boost. The reward endorphins can become addicting.

Lately I have been playing a silly gems-based game on my phone, and have noticed little by little how it has taken me away from others – away from life. “I matched four colors! I received a special tool. I made it to the next round.” Each ridiculous “win” makes me feel accomplishment – and then I can’t wait to get the next one. I want that high. The physiological reward overtakes me. Like any “doing” act, I feel accomplishment and pride in the completion.  And like any drug, the rewards are false, short-lived, and potentially harmful. Staring at my screen gives me immediate gratification, but the feeling is fleeting. I need to win the next round to feel the high again. Win, high, drop, repeat. Then I started to notice not only my addiction, but how it was affecting my life. I started to notice how I am reaching for my phone instead of looking my husband in the eye. I realize I am staring more at a screen than at the beautiful sea surrounding me. I realize my life and existence is relegated to a 3.7” screen.

Our modern electronic life offers many opportunities for instant – and fleeting gratification. The key of truly living and enjoying life, however, is to build joy over the long term. For lasting joy, like lasting love it is necessary to be committed to the long-haul, the non-flashy, and the seemingly mundane. Real joy is birthed in finding beauty and truth in every ordinary action and sense.  True love and truly living are not flashy. They exist in the common place, which is where we can find real fulfillment.

Think about your happiest moment, did it involve an award or the work which lead up to the recognition? Were you playing a video game or laughing hard with a friend? Was it the result of a carefully crafted corporate plan or the natural unfolding of a flower? My happiest moments have occurred at the top of mountains or near the ocean. I am not usually “doing” anything. My entire being is receptive of every sound, smell, glimmer, color, and texture. I am engaged. I am connected to nature and others. The difference is being fully in my body. Electronics take us out of our bodies; they restrict us to only a small portion of our brains. To be truly alive, to be truly happy, we must occupy our entire minds, our entire bodies, and our entire spirits.

Where you are filling yourself with instant and fleeting gratification? Where are you consumed with virtual versus actual reality? What precious moments are you missing? How can you bring yourself back to a real, long-lasting, consistent, and joyful life?

Make a start by joining me this weekend for the National Day of Unplugging. Don’t just turn off your phone, but all of your electronic devices. See if you can connect with your family, your friends, your loved ones, nature, and yourself this weekend.

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