Are we too busy to connect to real people?

I recently had a meeting in the City of London with a group of executives – the interesting fact was when I left the boardroom, there was this picture on the wall with the words:

‘Do more things that make you forget to check your phone’

– which prompted me to write this blog.

The facts, do we actually have time for our most precious relationships, do we give the time to build lasting relationships around trust and values or do we constantly feel we can always do better with the latest api or technology app?

Let’s face it: Technology is everywhere, but the more we depend on it, and the more we use it when we don’t really need it, the harder it becomes to create meaningful relationships — and sometimes, it actually makes things more difficult.

Is it really best to brainstorm an upcoming project with your co-worker over email, or would it make more sense to walk over to that person’s desk and have a face to face discussion? Can you actually go a whole dinner without checking your smartphone? Is it necessary to charge your phone right by your head at night?

In February, 2017 I wrote a very interesting blog ‘Has Technology Killed Love and Romance?’. The attributes that have now come to define us and the overexposure that the 21st century human is subjected to leaves no dearth of psychological problems. More and more people each year are diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety problems. This becomes a detriment when it comes to business and personal survival with relationships. With dissatisfying home, office or academic environments the relationship in many cases becomes the dumping ground for emotional baggage.

I challenge you to try going without technology when possible you will be surprised how great it feels (and how little really happens when you’re out of touch). While some business people avoid e-mail and mobiles during their time off, others find it tough to remain out of contact.

According to the study conducted by a group of international researchers, anyone who devotes more than four hours daily on screen-based entertainment such as TV, video games or surfing the web, ups their risk of heart attack and stroke by 113 percent and the risk of death by any cause by nearly 50 percent compared to those who spend less than two hours daily in screen play – and this is regardless of whether or not they also work out.

A very interesting TEDx video by Leslie Perlow – Thriving in an overconnected world, Leslie Pernow argues that the always “on” mentality can have a long-term detrimental effect on many organizations. In her sociological experiments at BCG and other organizations, Pernow found that if the team – rather than just individuals – collectively rallies around a goal or personal value, it unleashes a process that creates better work and better lives.

A very good friend of mine, Moran Lerner, is a behavioural and experimental psychologist with expertise in the fields of Cognitive Behavioural Innovation, computational intelligence and human-machine interaction. Moran has founded/co-founded over 20 market-leading global companies with 14 successful exits in Computational Intelligence, Biomimetics, Interactive Gaming and Behavioural and Bio Engineering over the past 20 years.

We often explore new and creative ways of listening, engaging, working together, learning, building community and being in conversation with the other. We are more connected than ever through technology and at the same time the disconnect with ourselves, others and our environment is growing.
We need ‘Meaningful Conversations’ to help us reconnect, going beyond our egos and our fears to build strong relationships, communities, networks and organisations, so that through collaboration.

Anyone who has sat on a Caribbean beach this summer will be familiar with the thrill of mobiles producing an instant response among supposedly off-duty executives. Mobile phones, BlackBerries, iPads, WiFi and sub-miniature laptops make it all too possible to pack the office along with your luggage. But how in touch or out of touch should businesspeople be?

So, what happens if you run your own firm?

You might have the big salary that comes with the top job, but little time to enjoy it.

Can CEOs ever release their grip and truly take a break?

The biggest obstacle to disconnecting is not technology: it is your own level of commitment or compulsion when it comes to work. If you work 80 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, you may find it pretty hard to get your head out of the office – and even harder to break the association between hearing the ping of an incoming email and immediately shifting into work brain.

If you told somebody 50 years ago that the most world-changing invention of the near future was telephones you could carry around in your pocket, they’d probably look at you like you were insane. But it’s true — mobile phones (and the data networks that have grown with them) have drastically reshaped the way we live in thousands of different ways.

Remember when horror movies had people menaced by slashers with no way to call for help? Remember unfolding confusing paper maps, trying to find where you were on the road? Remember racking your brain to think of that actor who played a robot on that one show? All of those things are gone thanks to Google and the incredibly powerful networked computers we carry in our pockets.

With great power comes great responsibility, however, and scientists are starting to learn that spending so much time staring at our phones is actually doing some damage to our physical, social and intellectual lives.

Here a few reasons why you should balance you time on your device:
It damages your eyes – Experts advise that prolonged screen usage can be seriously detrimental to eye health

It makes people perceive you negatively – Studies from Takashi Nakamura – Professor in computers in human behaviour reveal that frequent peeks at your device might damage your friendships as much as your eyes.

They carry bacteria – A study conducted by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine determined that one out of every six cell phones in England is contaminated with fecal matter, and 16 percent of them carry the E. Coli bacteria.

It’s bad for your neck – “Text Neck” has been springing up more and more in the last few years. The human head is a heavy object, and our neck and spine are designed to keep it up at a certain angle.

It makes driving dangerous – Recently released results from a new Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) naturalistic driving study continue to show that distracted driving is a tangible threat. The study showed that a staggering 213,000 accidents involved cell phone usage.

It makes walking dangerous – Phones can distract you on the street just as much as behind the wheel. In fact, an increase in pedestrian deaths last year was partially due to distractions caused by smartphones – some countries including the Netherlands – the Dutch town of Bodegraven has come up with a clever new way of keeping phone-obsessed pedestrians safe as they cross the road, a strip LED traffic signals installed in the pavement that glow red or green, allowing pedestrians to see if it is safe to cross, even if their eyes are glued to their phone screens.

It can damage your hands – We have all heard about “cell phone elbow” and “Blackberry thumb.” We’ve heard that looking down at a smartphone puts pressure on the spine and may damage your eyes. We are now experiencing “text claw,” a soreness and cramping in the wrists, forearms and fingers resulting from overusing our phones. But now we’re learning that such overuse might lead to temporary pain or even a deformity of your pinky finger.

It’s bad for sleep – Many people have a hard time putting down their cell phones before bed — when your Twitter interactions are going crazy, that temptation to take just one more look is hard to resist. Unfortunately, a number of studies have revealed that using LCD screens — especially close to your face — can upset your natural sleep cycle.

It makes you stressed – A study at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden attempted to measure the effects of cell phone usage on people in their 20s over the course of a year, the study connected mobile phone use and stress, sleep disturbances, and symptoms of depression among young adults.

It can make you hallucinate – even when you’re not looking at your phone, it can still mess with your mind. A professor at Indiana University-Purdue University conducted a study on “phantom pocket vibration syndrome” — i.e. people thinking that their cell phone was vibrating to alert them even when it wasn’t. In her survey, 89 percent of undergraduates reported thinking that their mobile was vibrating even when it wasn’t. The fact that our brains are being rewired to constantly expect this stimuli can also lead to stress, with another study observing significantly elevated anxiety levels in subjects separated from their phones for an hour.

It is altering your brain – this last one isn’t a definite negative — scientists still don’t understand exactly what is happening — but it’s troubling nonetheless. A study from the National Institutes of Health hooked up 47 people to PET scanners and observed their brain activity while a cellular phone was kept close to their head. The scientists observed a visible increase of about 7 percent, but as of yet don’t know its cause or what kind of long-term effects it will have. What we do know, however, is that the radiation is up to something in there, and are you really willing to take that risk?

“Most people check their phone every 15 minutes or less, even if they have no alerts or notifications,” Larry Rosen, psychology professor and author of The Distracted Mind . “We’ve built up this layer of anxiety surrounding our use of technology, that if we don’t check in as often as we think we should, we’re missing out.”

Rosen’s research has shown that besides increasing anxiousness, the compulsion to check notifications and feeds interferes with people’s ability to focus.

Besides the wasted time, there’s also the psychological grind that comes from spending too much time on your phone. Several studies have shown social media can be bad for your mental health, and Facebook admitted last year that passive use of its social network can leave people in negative moods. Researchers are still trying to figure out what long-term effects channelling so much time and energy into our devices will cause.

Some large investors are even pressing Apple to develop new tools to help users curb their phone addictions, saying that a feeling of dependency is bad for the company’s long-term health.
Fortunately, you don’t have to wait for Apple – you can simply become more deliberate about how you use your phone.

One group of business people at The Boston Group, a consulting firm, discovered just that when they participated in an experiment run by Leslie Perlow, who is the Konsuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership at the Harvard Business School and author of the book, “Sleeping With Your Smartphone”.

As described in her book. the group found that taking regular “predictable time off” (PTO) from their smartphones resulted in increased efficiency and collaboration, heightened job satisfaction, and better work-life balance.

Four years after her initial experiment, Leslie Perlow reports, 86% of the consulting staff in the firm’s Northeast offices including Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C. were on teams engaged in similar PTO experiments.

Final thought….. If you use your phone less, you’ll end up with more free time. Much of this will be in small chunks, such as when you are in the elevator, waiting in line of on the train. These can be great opportunities to take a deep breath and just do nothing (which can be a surprisingly relaxing and restorative experience).

You’re also likely to find yourself with longer periods of time to fill. In order to keep yourself from reverting to your phone to entertain you, it’s essential that you decide on several activities you would like to use this time for and then set up your environment to make it more likely that you will stick to these intentions.

For example, if you say you want to read more, put a book on your coffee table, so when you flop down on the couch at the end of a long day, your book will be within eyesight and reach. If you want to practice playing music, take your instrument out of its case and prop it up in the hall, where it will be easy to grab when you have a few spare moments. If you want to spend more time in mindfulness take the time to schedule time for meditation and practice it daily. If you want to spend more time with your family or a particular friend, make plans to do so and put your phone in your pocket or bag for the duration of your time together. Smartphones are habit-forming, so think about the habits you want to form.

As American author Regina Brett once said:

“Sometimes you have to disconnect to stay connected. Remember the old days when you had eye contact during a conversation? When everyone wasn’t looking down at a device in their hands? We’ve become so focused on that tiny screen that we forget the big picture, the people right in front of us.”

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