Dialing It Down

As a person who believes self-control to be a superb quality for everyone to have, I have to admit that I have recently become concerned with my own lack of it when it comes to my mobile usage. I have become that hamster on that wheel and I don’t like it.

The truth is, I have been cloaking my phone addiction as me being “deeply communicative” or “responsive.” I know I am not alone in this experience; the reality is that without giving due attention, it is very easy for anyone to get caught up in this Pavlovian-type attachment to our phones.

While we may answer quickly, at all times of day or night, I would submit that the quality of our communications – our true engagement – is lower. Both in what we say to the people on the other end, but also in how we interact with the people physically around us. Even the space we give ourselves. Everyone is worse off for this:

  • How many of us have sat on dates, either of the romantic, platonic, or professional kind, and the attention is on the Blackberries, Androids, and iPhones of the world and not on the person we are sharing a meal, a coffee, or a drink with?
  • How often have we woken up out of our sleep to give attention to the blinking red light or screen?
  • How many times have we bumped into someone (or seen it happen or had it happen to us) on the street because heads were bent in deference to the text gods and not paying attention to the world around?
  • Zoned out during work meetings, isolated ourselves from the day-to-day engagements of postal and bank service lines, ignored miscalculated receipts at the grocery store, etc.

The scope of impact, I think you would agree, feels all-encompassing.

So, as I build my 2013 list of things to work on (I won’t call them resolutions, because that is setting myself up to fail), this is going on top of it as “Dialing It Down.”

However, it is difficult to go cold turkey. To that end, I have already started testing out some approaches to help myself phase into a better place when it comes to my phones:

  1. Out of sight, out of mind – This afternoon, I deliberately slipped my phone into the pocket of my coat and hung that coat up in the closet. If there were an emergency, I could have been reached on my landline or via someone else. Not surprisingly, no emergencies, and for the first time in ages, I had a well-needed, uninterrupted two hour mid-day weekend nap.
  2. “Hey, your phone is ringing” – Despite that being the most annoying phone ringtone ever created, it works. We respond to beeps, rings, whistles, trills, tri-tones, et al. So, to combat that directly Pavlovian response, I have started turning my phone to silent and updated my silent mode to be exactly that: silent. No vibrations or ‘subtle hints’ – and I even turn the phone face down, so no visual sneak attacks either.
  3. Dis-engage to Re-engage – The desire to interact with each other is part of our nature as human beings. We want to talk, to listen, to learn from, to empathize with, and to engage. Technology can help that, but sometimes we need to get back to the basics of voice-to-voice and of person-to-person. So, for me, instead of random text messages, it will be: “Let’s meet for coffee”. Instead of a distracted phone call while driving, it will be: “I can’t talk now, but why don’t we do dinner this weekend?” Of course, I’m still going to have those quick “leaving this voicemail just to say hi” or the emails that say “this is a short one, but thinking of you”, but that will no longer be the default.

We cannot completely shut things off – our globalised, modern world simply does not allow for that and I also don’t find utter and total retreat to be necessary. However, carve the time out to re-energize ourselves, to re-engage with people in a more meaningful fashion, and to use our communication tools in a way that enriches and enhances our real lives.

I know I will be going forward – how about you?

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