I choose you. Not my phone.
Today’s world is often called the “attention economy”. Businesses and people are positioning for your ultimate resource, time. We often are (or at least feel) over-scheduled and busy. In addition to social and professional commitments, along with chores and errands, we feel stretched. While I continue to struggle with what I say “yes” vs. “no”, I think one place I can steal back precious moments is from my phone, especially in moments when I’m with people I work with and care about. When I think about the long arc of life, I wonder as I reach my final days what the chances are I’ll say, “I wish I’d spent more time giving my attention to my phone rather colleagues, friends and family! There’s still that one tweet I never got out!!” The thing is, if you’re at all like the average American, this year you’ll spend 23 days looking at your phone and by the time your life comes to an end, it will be just short of 4 years (mobilestats).
I don’t believe I’ll wish I’d spent more time with my phone so starting today am becoming more deliberate about 1) leaving my phone behind when entering social/professional engagements or 2) leaving it on “do not disturb” when in my possession. I no longer want to be so easy to reach I am distracted. One way I’m putting this into practice is at home with an “eyes up phones down” policy. I have created a drawer where my phone and those of visitors will be placed. Have no fear, you’ll be welcome to access your device at any time to take a picture or look something up but I want it to be just a little harder for us to react to "I’m bored/anxious” reflexes, which often cause us to seek instant gratification (and cortisol) offered by email, news updates, a text or social. This will also be my phone’s resting place when I am home alone.
Like me do you find the power your device has over you at times disturbing? Like me have you ever found yourself scrolling through your phone not even remembering picking it up in the first place? The other reason I think this is an important step to take comes from the saying, “listen to others at the same level you wish to be heard”. If you and I are in conversation and you look down at your phone, it hurts my feelings in a small way because what we are saying to the other person is, “this connection between us is not fulfilling enough. I need more”. Doing something like this certainly causes the FOMO kick in. "But what if I miss something important?” It certainly is possible. The average person looks at their phones 80 times a day. How many of those 80 would you say have proven to be something that needed to be answered urgently?
My friend Kevin gets a little bit of grief from friends in today’s connected world. Kevin is one of the last holdouts from the pre-smartphone era. While this can serve as a good joke, one thing I can assure you about Kevin unlike so many of us is you will never see him looking at his phone when you are with him. Other than text messages and phone calls he has no reason to look at his phone and therefore, he rarely does. For all the fun we have at his expense, Kevin is a model of attentiveness. When you are with him, he focuses deeply on you and there is something far more admirable about this than being able to send emojis. I’ll never forget years ago working with someone who at the time had a basic mobile phone, by all measures they were behind the time. After they purchased a smartphone, within a couple of months, I saw them become the type of person who was regularly absorbed in their phone while having a conversation with you, or leaving it placed on a meeting room tables with the volume on, responding to notifications in real-time..
What if we started setting a new tone for the meetings and social get togethers of our lives? What if phones on tables were taboo rather than a seemingly mandatory accessory? What if Instagram's #latergram became a symbol of discipline and respect rather than “sorry I didn’t get to this until now!”? What if knowing the answer to the question could wait? What if a text message from someone was prioritized as less important than the person you are with?
The next time you come over to my house, I’ll ask you to place your device in my drawer. We’ll probably miss out on a few updates here and there but what we won’t miss out on is the time we have carved out for each other. And when we look back on our life, will there be anything more important than that?
Go Forth Boldly