We recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of one of the most popular and beloved summer movies of all time, The Sandlot. The classic movie, based in the 1960s, is a story of nine boys who convene daily in the summertime to play baseball together. Every day, they hit the field without tracking score or counting innings. They play for the love of the game and, more importantly, for the tight bond that playing the game creates between them. The small baseballers razz each other, get into trouble, and enjoy each other’s company in the most simple, undistracted, and pure way possible. The movie has stood the test of time with audiences as the thought of such a carefree summer of connection between friends has a powerful impact for those who remember the simpler times of the 1960s and those who dream of such a time today.
Fast forward to the year 2020 and, amid a global pandemic, the thought of a care-free, connected summer seems more the stuff of fiction than any feasible reality. Instead of meeting up with our friends in a sandlot, we find ourselves hunkered down in vitamin D deprived rooms staring at the screens of our phones, laptops, tablets, and desktops for hours on end. The technologies we’ve used in quarantine have become increasingly integrated into our lives. Take a look at some eye-opening stats about some of some of our favorite technologies:
Of course, there is a good reason for the widespread adoption of these revolutionary and disruptive screen-based technologies. They make information more accessible, our work more efficient, and our lives more convenient. But as tech has made it easier for us to operate our world from behind a keyboard or smartphone, we’ve tended away from many of the rich, traditional real-world social interactions that have historically made us truly and meaningfully connected with others. It's become all too common for us to value our WiFi connections above human connections.
I challenge you to think back to the last time you had a really great conversation. The kind where your brain is stimulated, you’re in complete sync with the other participant and time seems to melt away. Maybe it was at a party with friends when you talked until the sun started to come up or on a date where, before you knew it, “Closing Time” started playing over the speakers and the restaurant staff was putting up the chairs around you. Whatever the scenario, these conversations are incredibly fulfilling and memorable, and it turns out there’s a biological reason for it. Great conversation releases a chemical called oxytocin, affectionately referred to as the “love hormone”, into your bloodstream. Oxytocin is responsible for giving you that unmistakable “warm and fuzzy feeling” and creates a sense of trust and relaxation with the person or people you’re talking to. From a biological and evolutionary standpoint, we’ve relied on oxytocin to help us select mates whom we’d have a better chance of reproduction with or a tribe of trusted friends whom we can trust to protect our best interests.
As time has passed and real-life interactions have more commonly been replaced by online ones, oxytocin has also played a significant role in confusing our biology. When we create a post on social media that gets attention through likes, views and comments, we receive a small dose of the “love hormone”. This, of course, makes us feel good and, in turn, incentivizes us to create more posts and spend more time on social media to get another dose. The problem is, the people issuing these likes and comments, rarely receive their own dose of the chemical or feel closer to the original poster in any way. Instead, they hit “like” and continue to endlessly scroll through their feeds, doling out tiny hits of oxytocin like the world’s most well-intentioned drug dealer. Of course, this new behavioral pattern serves no long term biological or reproductive advantage as these posts rarely lead to face-to-face interaction and actually incentivize us to spend more time online and less time together.
This phenomenon is powerful and has begun to have a profound impact on even our closest relationships. In fact, it has become so mainstream that the act of ignoring a friend or partner in favor of a screen has received its own dictionary term, “phubbing”. A 2016 study showed that 70% of couples studied said that cell phones interfered with their interactions with their partners. A 2019 study in Psychological Reports showed “phubbing” to predict anxiety, depression, hostility, and somatization. As it becomes more normalized daily, it threatens to become one of the most pervasive, but least talked about social issues we face.
So where do we go from here? Can we get back those magical friendship connections that once played out so organically between buddies on a baseball field? Are we doomed to live out unhappy relationships and forever rely on social posts to fulfill and validate us?
Thankfully, all hope is not lost and we can chip away at this problem with some attention and a little discipline. As with most addictions, and technology is no exception, the first step is admitting we have a problem. We must fight the now instinctual urge to grab our phones at the slightest hint of quiet or downtime. We must act with intention and make our technology work for us, rather than the other way around. While we may need our phones and laptops to get our work done, we don’t need them in those moments when we can lock eyes with those we care about and ask them how their day was. We can sacrifice one night of binge-watching Breaking Bad for the 3rd time to meet someone new or to reconnect with old friends. Next time you’re in an elevator, fight the overwhelming urge to pull out your phone and ask someone how their day is. Take these small steps and it may just surprise you how fulfilling conversation and connection can really be.
Easier said than done, right? Let’s face it, we’re adults now with real jobs and responsibilities. We’re tired at the end of the day and it's so much easier to half-watch that new documentary on Netflix while you’re scrolling your Insta feed. Heck, we’ve got a global pandemic going on! I’ll even admit that meeting daily at a baseball field to connect with friends may not be the most realistic solution. But as the world’s greatest minds work together to find a vaccine for COVID-19, we’ll soon have an opportunity to hit the reset button and start fresh with new social habits. As the dust settles and as it becomes safe again, you can start to make the conscious choice to fight against “the phub”. Make that effort to meet out for a drink, or to share a bite to eat, or to play a game together. Thankfully, there will be some great places like The 3rd Spot™️
where you can do them all under one roof. Fear not. You don’t have to go full “Peter Pan” and you’re free to return to adulting when the timing is right, but how you fill the space between work can make you less anxious, less hostile, and can repair or enhance some of your most valued relationships.
So as one of our most beloved movies has passed the quarter-century mark, I challenge you to take a page out of Bennie “The Jet” Rodriguez’s playbook and put some effort into turning back the clock. Gather your crew and go play some games, razz each other a bit, get into some trouble, and remember what it feels like to truly connect with one another. We need it now more than ever. Your own personal Sandlot awaits, grab a figurative bat and glove and let’s play ball.