While away for a few days, I stepped out of our downtown Cleveland Hotel to go for a run. I paused to stretch and I looked up to see every single driver sitting on the road in front of me on their phone. The road was packed, cars were honking, streetlights changing – the hustle and bustle of the early morning streets were in full swing. And, yet, even when battling traffic and not sitting at a red light, could the drivers put away their phones.
I sat and watched them for a few minutes wondering what they were all diligently looking at – was it personal, was it work, was any of it more important than just looking at the road they were on? We have become such a world of “unavailable” and “always available” at the same time.
Unavailable to enjoy and be in the moment we are physically in because we are so worried about, curious, or intrigued by what is happening in the world of our gadgets. Whether it is people trying to get a hold of us, emails to check and respond to, schedules to look at, wondering what other people are up to – we get sucked in. It may just be habit, it may be obsession, it may be boredom, or it may be trying to keep up with all that is expected of us. Whatever it is, looking at our phones at all times makes us unavailable to really be present in the moment – but “always available” to those on our gadgets. Someone trying to get a hold of us and wanting answers “now”, checking in with everyone on social media and updating everyone else on what we are doing has become the new norm.
Gadgets are incredible these days – the world is readily available to us, at our fingertips. At the request of a microphone or the click of a button, we can literally find out almost anything, about anyone. This is a good thing in many ways – and terrifying all the same.
I may age myself here and that’s fine. Do any of you remember the days we had to leave messages on answering machines and wait for the person to listen to it and get back with us? Or the days encyclopedias were the way we learned about our world? Actual book dictionaries were a thing on our school supply lists and it was a big deal to have a cordless phone we could walk around with in the house, never imagining having something to take around the world with us. When traveling, we had to stop at a pay phone to call anyone. Car trips had board games and playing cards – not televisions and on the go electronics. We had to call and talk to people if we needed anything and we had to write letters to those far away to check in.
The further development of technology has put the world at our fingertips – but sometimes I wonder at what expense. What do we miss out on in-person because of the desire to experience others through a gadget? How are we doing ourselves a disservice by not giving our minds (and schedules) more downtime without a gadget in our hands? What is the true impact of constantly looking at other people’s “highlight reels” on social media and not any of the inevitable “messy stuff?” What are the distractions doing to the safety of daily tasks like driving a car? Or our attention span, without being able to sit at a red light or stand in a line without looking at our phones?
What if we all took at least 30-minutes per day to just unplug? To be awake or doing monotonous tasks without looking at our phones? To sit at a table across from another person without having to look down at any type of gadget? That is my challenge for you this week….unplug. Put the gadgets away for at least 30-minutes per day. And fill that 30-minutes with actual time with others, with focus on a task (driving, sitting at a red light, etc), with absolutely nothing at all (crazy concept). Unplug….and be available to moments, to others, to yourself and unavailable to distraction.