Ways to Simplify the Over-Connection Conundrum

How disconnecting can help build better connection

If someone told me, when I started my telecom career 25 years ago, that "connectivity" in tech would become a controversial topic debated among policy makers, businesses, medical professionals and parents, I would have found it hard to believe.

But that's exactly where we are. At an impasse, trying to reconcile the benefits of technology with the unintended consequences of our digital wonders being misused, misplaced or mismanaged.

As CMO of one the largest wireless providers in the country, and as a father, no one thinks about this more than I do. In retracing our collective steps in the last few decades, I marvel at the duality of our current situation and the complexity required to move responsibly into the future.

There is no quantifiable way to measure the value connectivity has brought to our lives. At UScellular, I'm proud of the work we've done to help our customers maintain and strengthen ties with loved ones, experience culture, build communities, operate businesses and work safely from home during a pandemic.

But with all this innovation, there is one relationship growing precariously stronger: our relationship with our devices. It's estimated we pick up our smartphones 352 times daily on average. What feels like an involuntary devotion to our devices is actually distracting us—leaving many folks lonelier and even more disconnected. Just this year, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a health advisory about social media's impact on youth mental health. Policymakers are bringing forth federal and state legislation to help wrangle the issue of hyper-connectivity. All signs point to a more informed digital future.

While policy catches up with practice, we remain left to our own devices. Pun very much intended. Here's what I can tell you:

Technology isn't the problem

We're looking to technology to fill in areas of our lives that it was not intended for—as, perhaps, a cure for anxiety or a way to mentally check out when stressed. As with all good things, we have to become better at self-regulating. Designate tech-free times and places to disconnect. Or use the device itself to help—disable non-human notifications, track usage and set social media limits. These can help us create healthier digital habits.

The industry needs to do more

Now more than ever, the tech industry needs to lead by example in setting better directions for current and future generations. While some leaders have started to touch on this issue, we need to take further action and put it into practice at scale. We have an opportunity to put the customer first and provide better education and resources for them to establish responsible relationships with technology. Partnering with organizations, legislators and experts who share this mission can help us get there faster. We've just scratched the surface with initiatives like US Mode and our partnership with Screen Sanity, a non-profit helping guide families on their digital journey.

We need to get back to building genuine connections

I've personally become more intentional about putting my device down at the dinner table, my kids' activities and during discussions with family, friends and colleagues. I'm not always successful but it's about incremental improvement. I have a laptop sticker we created in partnership with Screen Sanity that says, "Do more things that make you forget to check your phone." One of those for me is improving at golf. When I play, my phone is in my bag, so I'm more focused on the task at hand. So far, I still have a lot of work to do! But the net-net is that disconnecting can be valuable in building connections, too.

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