Nowadays it’s hard to look past the “buzzy” people who are eagerly typing with both thumbs on their Blackberry device. In a restaurant, at the airport, in the car, at the dinner table or even on a day out with their family. These people are at work: controlling their workload, arranging their schedules and meeting their deadlines. Life is hard, isn’t it?
(Note to the readers: in this article I do not claim to have a balanced life myself. This rant is partially – if not completely – devoted to my own disturbing behaviors.)
‘So what’s new?’, you may think, ‘ever since the existence of cell phones, people have gotten used to being reachable any time and anywhere’; and ever since that moment it is common to have any conversation interrupted by saying “Sorry, I need to take that call”. Do you feel listened to when the person you are talking to is taking that phone call, playing on a gameboy or sending an sms?
The blunt reality is that when you let a conversation being interrupted by a call or buzz of your Blackberry, you are actually communicating that it is more important than the person you are talking to. The same goes for: “hang on, I have a second line”. Have you ever experienced any appreciation while listening to the music of the second line?
Even when you decide not to take that call or grab that Blackberry, you’ve lost a part of your attention (clearly noticeable through your eye movements, and thus impossible to hide from your counterpart in the conversation you’re having). For example: you are in a meeting or a restaurant and any mobile phone or Blackberry beeps a call, an sms, a mail or just a low battery alert, observe how many people are interrupted and grab their own device. It’s worse than the disturbance of smokers in a restaurant!
We seem to have forgotten that these things can be switched off. We seem to have forgotten that we choose our responses to the world. know at least a dozen of people who claim to be swamped in emails every day (“it never stops!”). Unfortunately, when I check and sort my own mailbox they seem to be the ones listed in higher ranks of received mails.
Let’s just admit that we are addicted and that we need help. The first step in the healing of any addiction is admitting that you are powerless over it and that your life is becoming unmanageable because of it (see step 1 of the Twelve-step Program)
Claiming Your Attention Back
Let’s have a look at what’s really going on here. Of all the resources that are available to us (i.e. time, money and attention), there is one that can not be compensated by the two others: Attention. Yet it is the sole resource that we almost never treat as a scarce and valuable one. So declaring your attention as a valuable resource may be a first step in finding the off-button of your mobile device.
This post is not about discipline or good manners. It’s about claiming back what really matters in our relationship to other people: our own attention. In short, some final advice:
1. Respect the ones you are with in the moment. Switch off that device more often and you will be more present in the moment.
2. Respect the ones that call or mail you by reserving a moment during the day to call or mail back.
3. Resist the temptation to dash an answer mindlessly, for it may be more non-communication than you have intended
So no need for a 12-step plan (yet) because the 3 steps above may get you halfway.