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These days, our biggest problem isn’t getting everyone in the same room, it's getting our loved ones to back away from the Wi-Fi long enough to connect face-to-face. Most of us have an online vice of choice, be it Twitter, Instagram or a bad case of Candy Crush. In fact, social media is our new pastime, says Suzana Flores, Ph.D., a psychologist in private practice in Chicago who's working on a book about the psychological effects of social media. “Thanksgiving is usually about football and TV,” she explains. “But Facebook has become our new national distraction.”

While it’s one thing to check in occasionally, you know you’re “Facehooked” (her word) when you’re more concerned with posting a perfect pic of the turkey than with what you’re saying to the person across the table. The sneaky reason so many of us today retreat to our respective screens? “Social media is addictive,” says Flores. “It triggers the reward center of the brain and gives you the same dopamine rush as sex or chocolate.”

This holiday season, how do we create a bit of distance from our 842 closest acquaintances and connect with our nearest and dearest instead? Here are three ways to take your tech dependence down a notch and make the holidays more memorable.

Good: Schedule A Photo Shoot

“Photographs are the number-one reason people need their smartphones during the holidays,” Flores says. And yes, it’s fine to document the Pinterest-cute cookies or Instagram-worthy tree. But instead of having the holidays be a nonstop picture fest, Flores suggests designating given times for photo ops. “Announce that this is the time to document the moment, then bust out the smartphones and go at it,” she says. After the image du jour has been captured, though, ditch the tech. “It’s important to say, ‘Once dinner is served, all phones must be turned off,” says Flores. (Humor can be helpful for getting people to comply. For example, you might suggest that iPhones, too, need a turkey-coma time-out.)

Better: Initiate A No-Tech Tradition

What would the holidays be without ritual? (Would anyone ever drink eggnog otherwise?) Starting this year, going tech-free can become part of your tradition. “You can even make a ceremony of it,” suggests Ramani Durvasula, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist in Los Angeles. “Pass a basket around the table into which the cell phones, iPads and Droids all go. Then just be.” This technique, she says, can be applied to whatever part of the holiday is most precious to you, whether it be the two hours while presents are being opened or during Hanukkah dinner.

Best: Draw Up Your Own Usage Contract

Of course, getting new gadgets at holiday time can be part of the fun. “Many people are going to give electronics as gifts,” says Durvasula. And this, she explains, is your golden opportunity to make sure your tech dependence doesn’t usurp your family togetherness. “I suggest creating your own electronic contract,” she says, “stipulating when gadgets will be used or turned off.” For example, you might decide: “The TV shouldn’t be on during dinner,” or limit time spent playing video games. “In my family, we create an electronic-free zone while everyone’s doing homework,” she says. You can even get as granular as stipulating photo approval before anyone tags or posts your likeness online.


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