(Dis)connecting in the bathroom

As I walked into a bathroom in the Kilcawley Student Center at Youngstown State University, I was welcomed by a loud booming voice coming from behind the closed door of a stall.

“Hello?” the voice said.

I didn’t recognize his voice, so I was unsure he was actually talking to me. But we were the only two people in the bathroom.

“Umm, Hi?” I said in an awkward return.

“Where you at?” he asked.

I wasn’t sure how to respond.

But before I could tell him where exactly I was, he quickly moved on to a conversation with someone else about “grabbing lunch” and a “dumb professor.”

Clearly, he wasn’t talking to me — or about me :)

My embarrassment quickly dissipated and turned to disgust as I thought about the number of pathogens likely crawling on his smartphone screen. Fears of a cholera outbreak raced through my head.

More importantly, I was curious to know why he felt it necessary to:

  1. Talk on his phone while using the bathroom.

  2. Connect to someone in the seemingly last private place on Earth — the bathroom (or, in this case, a semi-private stall in a public restroom).

Do we really need to be this connected?

I’m all for using social media and technology to connect, but somehow doing this while using the bathroom just seems wrong. I decided to look for answers.

How does someone so connected unplug?

“Our society is too connected to technology,” said Dr. Luis Almeida, professor of communication at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. “It leads to a lack of work productivity and higher medical bills.”

Almeida studies student perceptions of technology and connectedness.

In his TEDx Talk, Almeida said people who don’t take time to disconnect from technology tend to experience feelings of frustration and exhaustion.

“There are many [side effects] to using too much technology,” Almeida said. “Heavy users suffer from a lack of productivity, anxiety, impersonality and a lack of creativity.”

Of course, based on my bathroom encounter, I’m adding a cholera outbreak to the list of potential side effects.

But how do you know if you’re too digitally connected?

Try to look out for the warning signs.

“Whenever technology takes precedence over your family and work, it is time to stop, no matter the consequences,” Almeida said.

Don’t fret. If you’re feeling like it might be time to disconnect, but fear the withdrawal, take baby steps.

“Gradually reduce your use of technology each week,” Almeida suggests. “It’s important to face the symptoms, though. Ignoring the condition can be as bad as the addiction to technology itself.”

For example, if you’re using Facebook two or three hours a day, cut it back by 10 minutes each day for a week.

Almeida would advise the bathroom caller to start by putting his phone away before stepping into the stall.

Maybe he can use this free time to pick up some disinfecting wipes and clean up his phone.

You can watch Almeida’s TEDx Talk, “Breaking Free From Technology,” with a search on YouTube.

Dr. Adam Earnheardt is chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn.

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