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Over this past weekend, visiting with family friends, I noticed my friend David’s 10-year old son, Carter, immersed in his iPad during the entire afternoon’s get-together. Carter sat in the living room surrounded by guests but in his own separate world playing games on his device, never really interacting with the group. In an attempt to engage him, I presented him with a good-natured challenge – for every thirty minutes he did not engage with his technology, I’d give him a dollar. Excited to earn some money, Carter took the challenge and by the end of the afternoon, devoid of the temptation of technology, he was interacting with guests, played outside with friends and even managed to do some homework. He earned five dollars and remarked that it was “more fun than I thought it would be.”
Now, this was not easy for him. At first, he nervously eyeballed his iPad on the coffee table staring at it as if in a trance. He fidgeted and nervously touched the cover until he finally exclaimed, “I can’t look at it…I am going to hide it!” Carter took the iPad and slipped it under the mattress of a bed in an adjoining room and whispered to me, “don’t let me go in there, ok?” Later when one of the guests pulled out their phone, Carter gently suggested he put it away also (he couldn’t bear the reminder of what he was missing). If this isn’t addiction, I don’t know what is. And let’s be honest, Carter is not alone. Old, young, personally and professionally we all struggle with this addiction.
I share this anecdote because we live in a time when our interpersonal communication is dramatically compromised by technology. We see it and live it everyday. We spend more time interacting with our smart phones, tablets and social media sites than we do with each other. What is the cost?
Social psychologist, Sherry Turkle, says it best: “We live in a time when we expect more from technology and less from each other.” In her book, Alone Together, she describes how we want to be connected to each other but simultaneously want the ability to remove ourselves if we lose interest or want distance. For instance, we attend business meetings but text or check emails when we get the chance. We have lunch with colleagues to socialize but everyone is checking their phones while waiting to be served. We attend our children’s school events but look at our status on Facebook when our attention for the school play wans.
I voice these sentiments not to criticize or judge. I am an avid user of technology myself. I am, however, advocating for balance. Technology will only advance. We, however, have the ability to choose how and when to use it. Business is driven ultimately by relationships, not technology. We value our connections with our customers. We are grateful to work side by side with colleagues who we know and trust. These are all the results of connecting through strong interpersonal communication – face-to-face and toe-to-toe.
Here are a few simple recommendations that will help us all achieve better balance between human connection and technology:
I encourage you to integrate these six recommendations into your daily routine. Use technology when it makes sense and is effective. Revive your interpersonal skills – learn about each other and your customers. It is a simple but powerful commitment that can change the way you live and work.