On Thursday, we were having friends over for dinner and, after an appointment with a client, I ran to the grocery store to pick up a couple of items. I called my husband to let him know I had everything, but he didn’t answer. I called a second time, but he didn’t answer AGAIN.
Now, I’m notorious for not answering my phone every time it rings. If I’m with someone— it doesn’t matter if it’s a friend, one of my daughters or a client—I don’t stop what I’m doing to answer the phone (unless I’m expecting a really important call). I believe that the person you’re with deserves your undivided attention. I also don’t check my email or texts every hour. My goal is to always answer within 24 hours, but I’m definitely not tied to technology.
Back to Thursday night. Larry usually has his phone on him. Like a lot of people, he carries it with him and unless he’s with a customer or involved in a project at the office that can’t be interrupted, he typically picks up his phone when it rings. On Thursday I knew he was either on the road or at home by the time I called, so when he didn’t answer twice, I started to become concerned. There wasn’t a good reason to be uneasy. It’s not like he has health issues, was in a torrential downpour, or is a bad driver (although I do think he uses the brakes a lot when he’s driving MY car). Nope, I simply became anxious because I couldn’t reach him.
We are SO constantly connected that if someone doesn’t pick up the phone, or text back right away, we get worried or annoyed. We’ve become used to the ability to communicate with anyone, anywhere, via a myriad of methods: land line, mobile phone, emailing, texting, instant messaging, tweeting, posting. We have come to expect immediate feedback.
I’m sure not all of you are old enough to remember this, but “back in the day” (as some people say), things were very different. I grew up in a generation where television shows were aired in black & white (3 channels), and telephones not only weren’t cordless they had “party lines” (you could pick up the phone and other people would be talking). I did term papers on a typewriter where you fixed a mistake by sticking in a little white strip and typing over it. Invitations were delivered by “mailmen” (we now have postal carries but back then they were “mailmen”). Milk was delivered to a silver box on the back porch and we had dinner together every night, at home, without any electronics.
I think technology is great. I can order color samples for clients, research the best source for a piece of furniture, and pull up an amazing quote I want to share, all from the comfort of my own space. How wonderful. There are huge advantages to the advancements we all enjoy. We have a wealth of information at our fingertips. We can connect with other people so much more easily. Schools have benefitted by a shift in the learning environment. Classes can be taken online. The world has become “smaller” because we can communicate with people almost anywhere. Global partnerships are now much more viable. Many employees can work remotely. People who have challenges leaving their homes can be connected in spite of the physical barrier. Children can learn to read, write and explore online. The list of benefits goes on and on.
What concerns me is that we should have so much MORE time, but it often seems like we’re more harried and over-extended than ever. We over-communicate but we often don’t REALLY communicate. We’ve become adept at a new shorthand: SMS (short message service or textese) and we live in an instant gratification world.
It’s become more difficult to separate our professional and personal lives because we’re always expected to be “plugged in”. At home, some people text their partners or children to come down for dinner. At restaurants you see entire families caught up in their personal devises; there’s no conversation because they’re all on their phones, or playing electronic games. You see people texting at concerts, plays, soccer games, and faith services. So many people are not engaged in the life happening around them, but rather immersed in a world that’s brought to them on a very little screen. Our world has been expanded and minimized simultaneously.
We’re losing the art (and joy) of interacting on a person-to-person level. We are so busy worrying about what we might be missing that we forget to pay attention to the person or experience right in front of us.
Put the devices away for just one weekend, or day, or evening. Look at each other, in person, and have a conversation. Slow down. Enjoy the moment.
Our lives have been transformed by technology. How we handle that transformation is up to us.