Put Down That iPhone and Look Me in the Eye!

24GRAY-articleInline"Friends don't let friends lose the capacity for humanity" is the message of  Barbara L. Frederickson of the University of North Carolina. In "Your Phone vs. Your Heart"  she expresses her concerns for us losing touch with each other as we engage our touch screens. Her about-to-be-published research  about our instant electronic access "suggests that one measurable toll may be on our biological capacity to connect with other people"  It turns out that there's biology at work here, especially neuroplasticity. She continues: " Our ingrained habits change us. Neurons that fire together, wire together, neuroscientists like to say, reflecting the increasing evidence that experiences leave imprints on our neural pathways, a phenomenon called neuroplasticity. Any habit molds the very structure of your brain in ways that strengthen your proclivity for that habit...

"Your brain is tied to your heart by your vagus nerve. Subtle variations in your heart rate reveal the strength of this brain-heart connection, and as such, heart-rate variability provides an index of your vagal tone.By and large, the higher your vagal tone the better. It means your body is better able to regulate the internal systems that keep you healthy, like your cardiovascular, glucose and immune responses."

Our interactions with other people have positive, measurable effects on out vagal tone.

I can remember when iPads first came out. It was a Saturday night and I was out at a pub to hear Corned Beef and Curry, my favorite local band. There was a man at the bar with a brand new iPad which he was using to check various sports scores. He was more wrapped up in that world than the incredible music going on around him. The fact that he had a separate bar stool for his iPad made me think of it as his "date" for the night, but more I observed him the more my initial judgement melted to compassion. This iPad might be the only thing in his life that responds to his touch. He remained "alone"  the whole evening.

Our relationship with our tech is one worth contemplating. Do you use your phone as a tool, or is your relationship with it more Pavlovian?  Just because we have relatively instant access to each other does that mean that we should grant that access to each other with no discrimination?

Okay,  mini-rant done. If you've gotten this far go read the full article here, then go put your device down and look someone you care about in the eye and hug them – just for the health of it.