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Was There Life Before 7/24 Connectivity?

by David Brock on August 24th, 2008
Today’s New York Times has an interesting essay by Ben Stein entitle, Connected, But Hermetically Sealed. It is nice commentary about how we use technology to seal ourselves off from the real world.

Mobile phones, PDA’s Ipod’s, all great technologies that contribute to the quality of our lives also serve to diminish the quality of our lives by isolating us.

Imagine, sitting with a group of people, none talking to each other, but all engaged in text messaging as vigorously as possible.

Yesterday, on a bike ride, I passed someone saying “Hello” as I passed. They didn’t hear me or respond, because they were listening to their Ipod.

All of us are guilty, I find myself hiding behind my (de)vices. After all, it’s so much easier to bury yourself in email, messaging, playing a game, or listening to music than to be engaged. Rather than observing what’s going on around us, rather than talking to friends, colleagues, and, god forbid, strangers, we can hide behind the technology. Without these (de)vices, I have to actually pay attention to something or someone else. I have to listen, I have to hear a different point of view, I have to learn.

It strikes me a ironic, these devices intended to enhance communications instead isolate us. We deal with only the familiar and turn a blind eye to the new.

These devices, which can improve our productivity, are actually diminishing the quality of our experience. Instant accessibility supposedly helps us be more reachable for urgent things, enable us to respond faster. When I reflect on the emails, text messages, and phone calls to my mobile, as far back as I can recall, there was nothing that couldn’t wait a few hours. In fact there are many things that would have been better off by waiting a few hours.

I have often thought back to pre-historic times—when we didn’t have mobile phones, PDA’s etc. How did we deal with “urgency?” I have been engaged with top executives in major businesses worldwide. As I reflect back, business and the quality of decisions these executives made did not seem to suffer from delays of a few hours. In some ways, one might argue that many issues which are urgent at one moment, are no longer important 30 minutes later. The built in buffer of waiting a few hours to get back, actually made numerous issues become non issues and disappear.

Many organizations are recognizing these issues. they set limits on sending and receiving emails. They limit use of Blackberry, phones and other (de)vices. We don’t need an organization to help us with that, each of us can take action.
  1. Set your own time limits to email.
  2. Let calls to your mobile phone roll into voicemail—don’t interrupt what you are doing to answer it.
  3. Let text messages queue up, look at them periodically, but not instantaneously.
  4. Take some joy in looking around, watching what is going on around you, engage in the real world.

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