It was a gorgeous fall day in Washington D.C. I woke up itching to take a run along the Potomac and enjoy the October sunshine. I was gearing up to go when my boyfriend asked me to join him and his friends for brunch. A little social interaction would be nice on this beautiful day, I thought, and I could run later, so I joined him.
Social interaction, my foot. I should have gone running. For what transpired in that Georgetown bistro was not a table alive with sparkling conversation and pleasant give-and-take, but me sitting there while six other people constantly and obsessively texted, Twittered, and updated their Facebook statuses. Each person at the table was an island unto himself, lost in their electronic world, oblivious to the people around them.
Instead of enjoying the October sunlight, I spent the next ninety minutes basking in the glow of my tablemates’ Blackberries. That moment proved to me what I have long suspected—that we are all over wired.
I am a proponent of virtual effectiveness. In fact, it’s my professional expertise—how to be effective in a virtual world. But that brunch was a light bulb moment for me. It was a perfect example of not only what not to do in a social situation but of something far more insidious and troubling—we are addicted to technology. Smart phones have made us dumb to the world around us.
Smart phones are actually making our lives less effective, at least socially. Say you walk into a reception. You are alone. You glance around the room and not only do you not see any familiar faces, but everyone is head down, checking their smart phones. They are closed off. The message is: don’t talk to me. You came to connect with people, but everyone has put up an electronic barrier. So, you whip out your smart phone. You’re busy too! You can connect that way! Your new best friend, Mr. Smart Phone, can meet all your needs.
Suddenly you feel significant. After all, look at all the people who want to connect with you—you’ve got texts and e-mails and voice mail and postings on your wall. You have a rich virtual life that needs tending. That’s great. But what about your real life? What about the people around you? What about physical and personal contact? Now, don’t get me wrong. I love my smart phone. I love the Internet. I love technology. That’s how we all live and work. But when people use technology to replace real human connections, then it’s a real problem.
Everyone needs to connect and to feel connected; this is fulfilling and is an deep, essential human need. But now, people are meeting those needs virtually rather than personally. People are relying more and more (and some solely) on technology and the virtual world to feel connected. And that’s a problem.
So, are you addicted? Ask yourself: •Do you check your smart phone during lunch with friends? •Do you tweet that you are having dinner, while you are having dinner? •Do you check your e-mail while at your kid’s soccer game? •Do you check your e-mail before you get out of bed in the morning? •Do you sleep next to your smart phone?
If you’re a brain surgeon or the president or the secretary of defense, you get a pass. For everyone else, really? If you check your e-mail before you kiss your kids in the morning, you may be addicted. If you can’t wait in line for a latte without updating your status, you may be addicted (and annoying). If you text while driving, you may be addicted (and a danger to the rest of us!). So check yourself.
Technology is a wonderful thing, but too much is too much. If you are turning to your phone instead of the person seated across from you at the table, that’s a problem. But don’t worry. In my next articles, I’ll explain why we have to unwire, and how to do it.