November 17, 2010

Leave the gadget in your pocket and connect

Man phone sea
Digital Attention Disorder is the malady of the day. 

Yesterday, standing in a gate area at an airport, I noticed something - When business folk are idle these days, much like teens, they just stare into their phones.  Checking Twitter or Facebook or email or their multiple text threads.  Anything but connecting with other people. 

In fact, I'm seeing this "lost in his gadget" squinty personality everywhere: Walking down the street (aimlessly), in meetings, driving (really irresponsible), shopping and according to reliable sources -- in church.  We are more interested in pithy updates from semi-strangers than the humans sitting next to us or depending on us/helping us.  This is wrong.  

I started out in the mobile phone business back in the 80's.  Mostly, it was for on-the-go pro's, so they could return phone calls while they were out.  Some bought them for security (pre OnStar) or because they could afford to.  Most of the sales were installed car phones (remember them?).  When those users went to meetings, they actually paid attention and were engaged.  When they were out socially or for business, they conversed with others and "took in the sights."  

Then came digital pagers, black berries, smart phone and now the ubiquitous iPhone.  What's next, brain implants?  Today, we have a disengaged always-on culture, where attention is the scarce world resource.   This will randomize everything in life, including your relationships and circumstances. Data is everywhere, ready to divert-distract you out of any type of strategy.  

So here's the takeaway:  Leave your gadget in your pocket or better yet, back in your car or hotel room.  That way, you will HAVE to actually engage with people.  This is something I've been practicing for the last few years.  I only carry my gadget when I travel or run around town.  When I do, if at all possible, I leave it behind when going somewhere (reception, meeting, dinner, etc.)  If my wife has a phone in her purse, I'm covered for an emergency.  I'm not a surgeon on call, so I'm not shirking my duties by doing this.  The other night, due to a logistical issue, I had to take my phone with me to a dinner event.  I turned off the ringer and turned it upside down on the table so it wouldn't distract me from have a conversation and getting to know some people.  

Here's what I also get out of the equation:  I'm resetting expectations with all my business partners that I am not available 24/7.  I haven't carried a phone with me on the weekend for about seven years now and it's abundantly clear to everyone I do biz with that I'm a Monday-Friday guy.  For other people I know, they've signed up for an on-call lifestyle.  

I believe that phones are the new watches: We wear them for show.  But unlike watches, they are seductive in their attention sucking features and, with constant use, change us for the worse. 




Well, in a sense, the portable gadgets of today help us become closely knit in the online world. We may be seeing a future where we won't need to open our mouths to communicate! Scary!


You are so right! I am aghast how many companies expect their employees to be available 24/7. Not only do they expect them to answer their phones and check their emails, they expect them to write proposals in create presentations in the evenings. It's almost a badge of honor when you send the proposal and copy everyone at 2:00 AM. We have done this to ourselves, and it IS WRONG.


Excellent article! I am an ERP consultant (one of the very few, apparently) who doesn't carry a cell phone around. I don't even own one, though most of my colleagues do. Our firm has made a very deliberate decision from both a lifestyle standpoint and a customer expectation standpoint that our office phone is our only phone.

I've been asked by clients from time to time why I'm not available by cell phone (or how I could even survive without one). The answer has always been this: when I'm not at the office during the week, I'm working with a client. That client deserves 100% of my attention. If I had a cell phone right now, you wouldn't be getting my full attention, either."

I've never had a customer ask me the cell phone question more than once, and in 20 years, we've never lost a client due to being "unavailable."


I notice this behavior in my as well. While I definitely am not a "call" guy, meaning I rarely use my phone to call anyone or receive calls (I made it clear I can be contacted in my office for any work-related issue), messing around with the zillion of apps is something very common in me, and all my colleagues (we almost are an iPhone-only company heh).
In meetings I try to setup the "no phone" rule, it works at times, but there's always the undisciplined manager.


Tim, great article. Now if only I can actually follow through. Good wake up call.

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