A colleague of mine forwarded an article to me written by a very senior level executive about unplugging/disconnecting in this constant contact world.  This executive did not recommend totally disconnecting, recognizing the impossibility of that in this digital world, but recommended consciously choosing where/who to connect with and when, drafting emails to send later, that sort of thing.  The recommendations made a lot of sense.

Mine may not.

Well, they do to me, but….

I was standing in the lobby of my office building waiting for an elevator with 6 other going-homers (or going some-wheres). I decided to be pleasant and say goodnight, comment on the day, current events, etc., but there was a problem.  Every one of my fellow travelers was wearing headphones and staring at their phones.  They could not hear me, and certainly were not planning anytime soon to look at me either.  I felt saddened by this.  Not that I needed them to engage with me particularly, but it got me thinking, so I decided to talk to myself (not out loud–at least I do not think it was out loud).

In  a typical day, how many times do I encounter this situation?  Often, I said to myself.  In elevators, in meetings, on the sidewalk, nearly everywhere.  When I pull into or out of the parking garage at my office, the pedestrians are all plugged in, walking by without noticing that I am coming perilously close to them and, if I were not the sensible person that I am, might even consider nudging them with my car, just to make a point.  Of course, I would never do that.  But I have thought about it.  When I am driving home, watching people dashing across Wells Street to make trains while they catch up on their email or are rapturously listening to their music, I marvel at their luck in not getting squished under some truck or taxi or hit by some person on a Divvy or other kind of bike or struck by the driver in front of me who is also checking emails and listening to their equally rapturous music.

This tendency to be staring at our phones all the time (and I do it too) is part of modern life.  I get it.  However, not only do I believe that we are losing the ability to relate to each other, but also that eye contact is suffering.  I meet a lot of people in the course of my work day and am sometimes amazed by spotty or non-existent eye contact.  I recall one person who spent most of our meeting together looking at the surface of the cement building outside my window, which was directly behind me.  I kept trying to lean into his eyes, but to no avail.  Admittedly, an extreme example, but it makes a point.

While that senior level executive I referenced earlier in this commentary had a lot of great ideas about managing her electronic world, I say she did not go far enough.

GO FOR IT. UNPLUG. (At least sometimes):

In traffic
On the street
In meetings
When your significant other is talking to you
When your friends are talking to you
When you are with your children
While I am talking to you at the elevator
When you are driving – had to say it even though I know we know
At movies
At the theater
At any restaurant table
Oh the list goes on…I am starting to bore you I am sure

Use your phone to:
Make calls (important ones)
Receive calls (important ones)

Try it – once a day, once a week, once a month, or once in a while!

I believe if we all unplugged a bit more, we would be better friends, co-workers, bosses, and listeners; more observant and in-tune with our surroundings and people; more intuitive, interesting, smarter; and much safer when crossing the street in front of cars being driven by drivers who are checking their emails, or considering nudging you to make a point!

So, I look forward to talking with you the next time I see you at the elevator AND waving and smiling at you as I pull into the parking garage.