I remember my first mobile phone, I think it was a Nokia which sat in my hand like a small brick. Prior to purchase of said brick I couldn’t see much point in being accessible at all times. However due to my itinerant lifestyle it was often impossible to get hold of me for work. This, after all, was a time in a long, dark, distant past before the Internet.
After a while my phone became a primary form of communication. Why make the effort to go and see friends when it was possible to text and tick that interaction off of my to-do list?
14 years after that first mobile phone purchase, I carry around a device that has access to more information than Bill Clinton did when he was president of the United States. I just counted and my smartphone contains more than 90 apps, many of which I fail to use or even know the purposes of. I suspect that some of those apps could distract me for hours, holding my interest when my interest would be best applied elsewhere.
Some days I’m tempted to throw my phone in the garbage bin. But then I remember Uber, Whatsapp, Dropbox and, Evernote, all of which make my personal and business affairs a lot more fluid and organized when I choose to use them.
There’s one Application on my phone that I will never use, and that’s voicemail.
For long periods of each day I prefer to switch my phone off entirely, and if I’ve missed calls, so be it. The last thing I need is a dozen messages to return after I’ve worked for many hours.
Switching my phone off comes with at least two favourable consequences, 1. I get to work entirely uninterrupted. 2. I’m reminded of how relaxed I was prior to digitally connecting to everyone and everything 24/7.
For all of the benefits of our connected world there are also many drawbacks, such as living perpetually half present to our environment.
Becoming a father was eye opening for many reasons, one of which was the awakening of my senses. Sharing my sons experiences in contexts I had long taken for granted, teaches me to see, hear, touch, taste and smell in a different way. My boys don’t have iPhones or TV screen time (except for an hour at the weekends), which means that when playing in the garden, there is only mud, grass, bark, flowers, rocks and plants. When walking along the beach, there is only sand, surf, salty air and the gulls. At meal times, food is seen, smelled, tasted and played with, but with little other distraction. Like a Buddhist master, many kids are able to be present much of the time and will rarely take a distracted sideways glance to check for incoming messages. When we have eyes to see and ears to hear, kids can be our greatest teachers in how to really appreciate life.
If life is a series of moments that has to be lived one small step at a time, isn’t it better that we are present to most of those moments? Living through a screen is only half living. If you don’t believe me, try only eating digital images for a week.
I have no doubt that some people could happily live alone on an Island, just as long as they have a good Internet connection. But for most of us this would become no better than solitary confinement. The highest quality experiences are rarely via a handheld device, but rather in direct experience and relationships (to people, places and activities) that fire up our senses.
Could you switch off from alerts, news feeds, notifications, likes, texts, emails, voice mails and phone calls, just long enough to appreciate how such things are a filter to potentially more meaningful and valuable moments?
At the end of the day, every human shares from the same commodity pool – time.
How we use our time reflects what we value most. But as Henry David Thoreau stated,
‘The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.’
How much of your own life are you trading today in return for constantly being connected and ‘on’?
It’s time to stop writing and go watch the hummingbirds in my garden.