Most mornings my running group meets bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 5:45 AM. Of course, even at that peaceful time in the early morning we have to watch out for oncoming traffic. No matter how sleepy I am, nothing’s more bracing than the slipstream of speeding cars racing by. So I’m very tuned into the commuters that zoom past.
Here’s the odd thing: Even at that hour, the people who zip by are almost always on their cell phones.
Not so strange, of course, except that it’s a quarter to six in the morning! Who the hell are they talking to, anyway?
At the movies, at the gym, right outside my office window, even at lunch today while I was writing this post (see photo), almost everyone’s busy staring at their smart phones and exercising their thumbs.
Who in the world are they communicating with?
This morning on my drive to work I almost killed a bike rider who was looking at his phone while pedaling directly into oncoming traffic.
What in the world was he reading that was so important?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m just as guilty as the people I bitch about. I look forward to stopping at red lights just so I can read my email even though I already checked it two or three blocks before. And twice this week I had to apologize in meetings because I was reading something on my iPad instead of paying attention to what was being said around me.
What I can’t figure out is why the come-hither call of our online networks is so damn enticing. Sure, I’ve read about the little dopamine rush we get each time our devices beckon, but is that really stronger than the limbic charge of honest to goodness face-to-face interaction?
Apparently so, as so many of us stand on virtual street corners just waiting for our digital Johns to drive up. “Going my way, big boy?” indeed.
Knowing what a pathetic digital junkie I am, I try very hard to corral my inner Zen master and be present. I turn my phone face down in meetings and blacken my computer screen when I’m taking phone calls at my desk. But I still find I’m slowly and inexorably sucked back into online exchanges with people who aren’t even in the room.
By the way, please spare me the ADD/multitasking argument about how you get so much more accomplished because you can do so many things at once. Study after study proves what we already knew deep down inside to begin with — multitasking is simply the au courant definition for doing many different things at the same time badly.
Believe me, the problem’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better. With the proliferation of digital devices and the ubiquitousness of networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, et al, we’re all going to be harder and harder pressed to resist the sirens’ call to dash our ships on the digital shoals. Eventually, new social constructs and procedures will emerge to deal with the new normal, but like most evolutionary changes, that’ll take time that we can’t really afford.
So for now, a valiant fight against the persistent tide is what’s called for. To rally my internal troops to action, I use the battle cry, “You must be present to win.” After all, if I’m not paying full attention, how can I even know what I’m missing — let alone come up with the best response or course of action?
If you’ve decided to fight the same fight against persistent inattention, I hope my mantra helps you, too. And even though I’d love to discuss it with you further, my phone just lit up and I gotta go.