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In Algonquin Park, our phones don't get reception, there's no TV and, though there are many Instagram-worthy moments, none are shared with the world until our return to Toronto. Whether our days are full of boating, swimming, hiking, napping or reading, there is one constant: We are disconnected from the outside world.
A week without social media, email and phones is something we look forward to, but not everyone is comfortable with giving up their connections. With relationships that are mediated and informed by social media, it can be hard to set aside genuine quality time with your partner. Nicole McCance, a registered psychologist in Toronto, outlines the many reasons why it's important to set aside face-to-face, tech-free time with your partner.
As much as social media has allowed anyone with Internet access to connect and engage with the larger community, it has also added to the growing disconnect between people's real lives and their virtual personas. And it's hard to not compare ourselves to what our friends online are doing. "Unfortunately, we now have this barometer that we didn't have before," says McCance, noting that we measure the happiness of others by their social media activity and then wonder why we aren't measuring up. It's important to keep in mind that what people present over social media is not always an accurate reflection of real life. (Check out "What I Instagrammed vs. what was really happening" for a funny look at this.)
Be in the moment
When you're constantly connected to your devices, you can lose sight of experiences happening in real time. "I will hear – mostly from my male clients – that when they go to events or do activities, their partners post photos and are not present in the moment, which can be frustrating," says McCance. Remember: No filter or creative caption can replace your actual experience, and trendy hashtags can wait till later.
Get out of the city
Although disconnecting can cause anxiety for some – especially those who rely heavily on technology and social media for their jobs – there is a way to help counteract some of those feelings: get out of town. "Nature grounds us, it has us breathe deeper and our muscles relax – it's so beautiful and it helps our racing thoughts slow down. That's when true reflection happens," says McCance.
My annual trip to Algonquin with my partner is a great reset for us – we take time to think, relax and bask in the scenery, and we also talk to each other, face to face. We discuss everything: our favourite TV shows, our professional goals for the year, our thoughts about our future together and so much more. Even if you can't leave for a long getaway in a remote area, taking a couple hours a week to reconnect can set a great tone for the following few days. According to McCance, "when you spend time together with no distractions, you can not only bond but have those more meaningful, future-based conversations."
Be realistic and communicate
If social media is a part of your job, then disconnecting will always be a little difficult. But it's important to separate work time from the time you spend with your partner. Be realistic about your demands – don't tell your partner to ignore his phone when he is waiting on something important. However, it is important to communicate boundaries. If it's "couple time" after 8 p.m., then make sure both parties know to disconnect from devices. McCance recommends, at the very least, you should try to go tech-free during dinner. Give each other a meal to catch up on the day and update each other without checking newsfeeds or double-tapping the latest update.
Hold each other accountable
Making a pact with your partner might just be the motivation you need to help cut down on your tech time. If you're both doing it together – and reaping the benefits – then you're more likely to keep it up.