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Tips for the tech obsessed to avoid social faux pas this holiday season
The holidays are upon us, and regardless of which traditions we celebrate, they all tend to involve gathering around with friends and family. It’s a time to reconnect with relatives, eat delicious food and engage in communal conversation. However, one thing, in particular, has a knack for preventing us from doing so, and it resides in my and your pocket.
Smartphones provide an easy and effective way to communicate with the world at our fingertips. But they can become a hindrance when talking to others in the same room or sitting at the same table. A flashy new phone can be especially hard to ignore if it’s been waiting for you under the Christmas tree and you’ve just unwrapped it. But the holidays only come once per year, and that phone will still be waiting for you long after all the baking is gone.
Now, I’m not saying it isn’t okay to ever use your phone during a social gathering. For example, there’s nothing wrong with using your smartphone to take a picture of everyone for keepsakes. But our devices shouldn’t distract us from the time spent with loved ones.
With that in mind, here are a few tips for breaking the bad habits of tech obsession so you can focus on the present moment and the people you share it with. If nothing else, being mindful of how you use your phone can save you from being nagged by your mother. Not to mention you’ll be more vigilant in spotting someone trying to take the last helping of your favorite food before you get seconds.
Quiet those notifications
More than ever, the constant interruptions and precisely-targeted distractions from phones can prevent us from being present with each other. It might sound surprising, but roughly 89% of cellphone users admit to using their phones during their last social gathering. If that number doesn’t scream tech-obsessed, then I don’t know what does. In our smaller poll, 41% of respondents said they only use their phones when no one is talking to them (which perhaps isn’t as rude but still not ideal).
As soon as you feel a buzz or hear the notification bell ring, it's normal to instinctively pull out your phone.
We get it. When you are just sitting there, and the conversation dies down, or perhaps doesn’t interest you, it’s tempting to pull your phone out. As soon as you feel a buzz or hear the notification bell ring, it can even happen instinctively. These interruptions are designed to be exciting, after all, and it’s when we are idle, when there’s “nothing to do,” that we feel our phones calling to us to supplement the boredom.
But the truth is, there is always “something to do” around the holidays. There are people to talk with and stories to listen to and tell.
If you aren’t expecting any important news, why not turn on Do not disturb mode to halt all incoming distractions? You could set a timer for just one hour during dinner to start. If you are waiting on some news, consider just blocking calls or specific apps from vying for your attention. Do not disturb allows you to set your own schedule for when and how your phone can bug you.
Turning on Do not disturb mode and making a conscious effort to stay in the conversation are good places to start.
Even without the cue of a notification, we may feel the urge to take out our phones. Instead, try redirecting that urge into a question. If you can’t think of anything to say, maybe take another mouthful of turkey and compliment whoever cooked it on how good it tastes. With practice, we can become conscious of our habits and decide what deserves our attention.
Limit your screen time
Notifications aren’t the only distraction. Scrolling through apps like Twitter or Instagram during social gatherings is perhaps even more ill-mannered. In fact, the presence of a phone during a conversation has been shown to disrupt the connection between people. Specifically, emotional attachment is reduced when phones are visible, lowering feelings of empathy, trust, and a sense of closeness.
It’s easy to get sucked into the social feedback loop of likes and online drama. But limiting your screen time in the first place is easier than trying to unplug once you’ve opened the app. We recommend using tools like Digital Wellbeing or Focus Mode to stay attentive. Think of them as setting up some helpful digital guardrails to keep the tech obsession to a minimum.
Digital Wellbeing can set some healthy guardrails to rein in your scrolling.
Look at the graphs for how long you tend to spend on each app. If that amount alarms you, set daily timers for how long you can use them. Once you reach your time limit, it might even be a good idea to give the unlock passcode to someone else. That way, you won’t be tempted to bypass it.
What to do if someone catches you using your phone? Hopefully, you are looking at something interesting that’s worthwhile to share with others and stimulate the conversation. If not, you may deserve that lump of coal. The key point here is not to get trapped in a bottomless newsfeed or game that isolates you from the festivities.
Now, I’ve got some bad news here. Even if you limit your screen time, turn off your phone, and put it face-down on the table, it can still drain your attention. Yes, you read that right. The mere presence of a smartphone within arms reach stimulates working memory. This brings us to our last tip; remove the phone altogether.
Out of sight, out of mind
If you want to escape the brain drain and get on the gravy train, leave your phone in another room. Tie your phone to the top of the tree, hide it in a stocking or set up some nutcracker soldiers to guard it if you must. Whatever it takes, you will notice a positive difference from digital fasting.
If you are tech-obsessed, there is even more advantage to doing so. Ironically, participants in one study with phone addiction had the greatest increase in memory and fluid intelligence scores when their phones were in a different room. In other words, if you are an avid phone user, good news! You’ll get an extra boost of focus from taking a break.
If you are an avid phone user, you'll get an extra boost of focus from taking a physical break away from it.
This holiday season, let’s try to put the phone away. As we’ve seen, having our phones out disrupts our focus and our connection with those around us. So remember, silence notifications, limit screen time, and leave your phone in another room when you can.
If not for the whole day, try to keep the phone out of reach for one hour. We guarantee you will thank yourself and be more present for the feast, the songs, and the traditions with the people you’re sharing them with. Such a feat might just amount to a Christmas miracle.