27 March 2019 - Digital distractions

I used to sit at work and on my neighbours desk resided a mobile phone that continuously 'binged and dinged' throughout the day. I called it her Tamagotchi. This phone demanded attention from its owner via its multitude of noises; a notification here, a call there. It was exhausting to hear, let alone try to keep the Tamagotchi fed and happy. But it did make me wonder how productive this person could truly be if, all their time was devoted to this device. 

I walk along the street trying to get to my next location. For a short person I am a speedy walker and often surprise others who are much taller than me, as they quicken their pace to keep up. There are now two types of groups that slow my progress down. For many years the prime group were the teenage students who would huddle together in the middle of the street, backpacks on, filling the pavement area, and chatting loudly with each other. The new group of people who have added to the slower pace are all individuals. These sole players all wander along the pathway, oblivious of anything or anyone around them. They are instead all transfixed by one item, their phone. 

One such individual, phone glued to their palm and their face fully submerged into it, was one morning attempting to achieve a Darwin Award until I stopped him at a crossing point when it wasn't his turn and nearly met his maker via a lorry. His response was to casually look up, smile and then check all was clear, only to proceed as before. I feel natural selection could win the long game here. 

I think back to how much the phone has changed over the years. I first got a company phone in the mid nineties (yes, I'm that old). I could make calls from it and receive them. I could store some phone numbers in it. I could also use it for weight training due to its size, but that's a different matter. 

I moved on and purchased my own phone, a shiny Nokia. It was sleek compared, and not brick like. I could now text people (but not many others had a mobile phone), and I could play the Snake game.  

I continued to move through many phones, more company options that came with car kits. My fella and I had compatible phones and went through a phase of dashing to the car so the winner could put their phone into the car pack. Ah, simple pleasures. 

I even went through the obligatory Blackberry phase, with its 'clicky' full keyboard. I could send and receive emails on these devices. It wasn't just a phone anymore.  

And then in 2007 the first iPhone was launched. That's when change really kicked in. Closely followed by the birth of the App Store, giving us the option to pimp the potential of our now devices and not just phones to do so much more with them. 

Our relationship with the phone has changed dramatically over the past 10 years. Phones are smart, they are mini computers in our pockets, running our lives. We are besotted about them, we are anxious without them and we are their slaves. Ironically, we now rarely use them for their initial intention, a phone. 

I look at my own relationship with my phone and how it has changed over the years. At the beginning I would happily turn it off, even if it did have the battery life of a month. It was given to me as a safety feature; a lone female out on the road with a phone, to use should I get into any trouble (that wasn't of my own making).

Then phones had a business use, the ability to make calls while spending many hours driving between client meetings. Making productive use of my time and trying to concentrate on the roads. Or responding to emails while on the train, extending my working days that little bit longer. 

Phones meant that I could be always available, always able to respond. I think our relationship with communications have changed due to this. Immediacy is now deemed not quick enough for some people. Anxiety kicks in if a response is not received within lightning speed. Must do things faster. 

I could feel this happening to me and it was making me anxious. The 'bings and dings' from my device weren't happy noises but instead felt like attention seeking problems. I resulted in turning my phone onto silent. It helped, a lot. 

The past few years have seen social Apps grow significantly - Slack, WhatsApp and Twitter to name a few. Apart from being battery draining with all the notifications they also can be time stealing too. Time that can be better spent with actual people and not virtual ones. Sometimes we give priorities to the people craving attention from our phones and not the ones sitting directly opposite us. That affects real relationships which should be cherished.

Having attended a workshop, read her book and asked Dr Anastasia Dedyukhina to be our keynote at London's Calling Community Conference this year to tell us more about mind hygiene and how to take care of our brain in the age of digital distraction, I have made more changes. 

These are subtle changes that I can incorporate into my life that means that my device doesn't own me, but is instead used as a tool that I can aid me. I want a healthy relationship with technology, not an overpowering one. 

If you're thinking that you spend too much time attached to your phone or see others behaving like this then maybe its worth exploring how your relationship can shift with a few changes. Check out Anastasia's TEDx talk for starters: Could you live without a smart phone?


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