In the last couple of weeks on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we’ve been talking about healthy approaches to relationships in the Digital Age. Today we’d like to share an article with you that addresses an issue we haven’t yet explored in depth: how to take a break from pressure (often impossible, stressful, and unreasonable) and respond to constant virtual communication without coming across as “emotionally unavailable.” 

In the following article, Kate Bratskeir of The Huffington Post talks about a great new mobile app called “BRB” that has made it possible (and very easy) to communicate with others that you are taking a quick break from virtual communication and will respond to all incoming messages upon your return. Here’s why we’re super excited about this guilt-free (and literally free) app: 

With “BRB,” we hope you can take a guilt-free break from your phone to do many things that are complicated by the constant evolution and increasing omnipresence of our high-tech gadgets:

  • Participate fully in social interactions: build and strengthen your relationships!
  • Be entirely present and give a friend your full attention: having a real heart-to-heart is hard when you’ve got to check your mobile every few minutes.
  • Spend invaluable, uninterrupted bonding time with your kids: when exactly will you have the chance to do this again?
  • Enjoy a romantic evening with your partner: we all know that nothing spoils the mood like an overactive cell-phone…
  • Take guilt-free time for yourself: take a walk, meditate, daydream, dance, paint, read, play with a puppy, watch your favorite TV show, insert any activity that makes you happy.

Using this away-message-esque service (oh, the nostalgia…) with discretion and accountability – being honest about needing to take a break from virtual communication when you feel that it’s creating stress in your life or promoting unhealthy/addictive habits, and likewise being honest with your friends and family about getting back to them at the end of this break – you may be able to overcome many of the issues we’ve addressed in recent entries on The Gottman Relationship Blog! 

We promise we aren’t being paid to advertise “BRB.” We just think it’s really cool.

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How To Unplug Without Ignoring Your Friends

By Kate Bratskeir, Huffington Post

The experience of dining out has changed. We text, tweet and email all while forking a few bites into our mouths and half-participating in the actual table talk. 

This phenomenon is exactly what prompted Noah Levy and David Krevitt to develop “BRB,” a free mobile app that makes unplugging easy – without alienating loved ones.

“We were having dinner with a bunch of friends at The Meatball Shop in the West Village. We looked around and pretty much we were all on our phones, everyone in the restaurant was on [a] phone,” Krevitt explained to The Huffington Post. 

This meal-time mindlessness got the duo’s gears turning. They started asking the bigger existential questions. “Why are we even here?” Krevitt wondered. “Why don’t we just get take-out if we’re not going to enjoy the company?”

To remedy, the pair hatched a sort of auto-response for your smartphone. Of course, phones already have voicemail, but until now, Levy says, there has been no “universal way of telling everyone that you’re trying to get away.” The iPhone complicates connection. “There are so many different ways to communicate [on the iPhone]; it’s not just a linear feed.”

Maybe simply switching off your phone and leaving it at home would be a quicker fix. Yet, in a society where we expect immediate response on our devices, checking out — unannounced — might not suffice.

“The social norm is that you should respond within a couple of hours, if not immediately,” David E. Meyer, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan told The New York Times back in 2009. “If you don’t, it is assumed you are out to lunch mentally, out of it socially, or don’t like the person who sent the e-mail.”

In that respect, the app gives you the luxury of falling off the grid (yep, for some it’s a luxury now), while maintaining a hard-won reputation as a “good” friend.

“We kind of rely upon our phones to be the conduit for our friendship these days,” Krevitt says. “If someone is not getting back to you — it’s like being emotionally unavailable.”

BRB can assuage the distress of any pal who might assume they’re being ignored (and vice versa, you won’t have to worry about hurting any feelings). Push-notifications and alerts inform your contacts who also have the app that it’s not them, it’s you — and your decision to take a little texting hiatus. You don’t have to be constantly connected to be a good friend. In fact, you might become a better one when you engage in these short, tech-breaks. Just a little time spent without your cell can help to keep symptoms of stress and anxiety at bay.

And for fun, BRB plays off of the millennial-era “away message” first popularized by AOL’s Instant Messenger and that so many 20-somethings have relied on throughout their social lives. BRB users are free to customize their notices of time spent unplugged, and the most fun, creative “away messages” are highlighted on the app.

“The away message was an art form back in the day,” 25-year-old Krevitt reminisces. And they make us nostalgic for another time. “[Millennials are] the last group of individuals who saw what life was like before the smartphone era — the last real generation to remember what it was like to not always be ‘on.'” And in that sense, he says, it’s a bit of a responsibility to hold a torch to life when our heads were up, not buried in the glow of a screen.

The idea, still, is not to relinquish our reliance on phones. “We’re big iPhone addicts over here,” Krevitt admits. “We’re not trying to say that the phone is a problem here. We’re just trying to give people… another way to communicate.”


To see Huffington Post’s wonderful list of “19 Ways to Unplug,” follow the link to the original article and scroll to the slideshow at the bottom. We really like it, think it sounds pretty fun, and plan to put these ideas into action ourselves this weekend – we hope that you enjoy them too!


More in The Archives
How to Find the Time and Space to Disconnect with Care and Grace

Ellie Lisitsa is a staff writer at The Gottman Institute and a regular contributor to The Gottman Relationship Blog. Ellie is pursuing her B.A. in Psychology with an emphasis on Cognitive Dissonance at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.