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.”

Every day we interact with hundreds of people across dozens of platforms, but how can a meaningful conversation help your business?

Conversations are key to language development, the exchange of thoughts and ideas and listening to each other. People learn by hearing each other’s thoughts while observing facial and body expressions that show emotions.

“Face to face conversation is the most human and humanising thing we do,” says Sherry Turkle in her book ‘Reclaiming Conversation – The Power of Talk in a Digital Age’.
“Fully present to one another, we learn to listen. It is where we develop the capacity for empathy. It’s where we experience the joy of being heard and of being understood.
Conversation advances self-reflection, the conversations with ourselves that are the cornerstone of early development and continue throughout life.”

Technology is a part of everyday life, but replacing face-to-face conversation with phone conversation, via texting, emailing, etc., has taken important skills away from children and young adults.
In today’s world, there is a “flight from conversation,” as Turkle says. All ages of people cannot do without phones and screens, but a balance is of utmost importance.

How much time do you typically spend with others? And when you do, how connected and attuned to them do you feel? Your answers to these simple questions may well reveal your biological capacity to connect.

If you’ve ever been trapped in an lift with a casual acquaintance, you know just how painful small talk can be. “Such a shame that we’re stuck in the office on a beautiful day like this!” your peer may even smile. Or, “How was your weekend?” your neighbor may ask not because he or she actually cares about the quality of your weekend, but because there is an awkward silence that begs to be filled.

There’s a reason small talk like this exists. If your peer were to ask you about your darkest secrets or deepest wishes while the two of you descend floors in a tiny metal box, you would probably feel like this is too much, too fast. As in, too much intimacy, too early on in your relationship.
Likewise, small talk can help us probe for more interesting topics to talk about.
For example, if you were to answer your neighbor by saying, “My weekend was great! I bought the final component for my laser defense drone,” your neighbor would definitely have some follow-up questions.

The instant and omnipresent world of communication has increased our capacity to connect on a perfunctory level, but in some cases has thwarted our capacity to have real and meaningful face-to-face conversations.
The two forms of communication — virtual and physical — can work in tandem, though the physical kind obviously takes a bit more effort, but most often results in a far more meaningful experience.

A popular article in The New York Times, Your Phone vs Your Heart, mirrored some of these observations. In particular, the article explored how we can actually “re-wire” our heart and brain to become more secluded.
It contends, “If you don’t regularly exercise your ability to connect face to face, you’ll eventually find yourself lacking some of the basic biological capacity to do so.”
In summary, if you don’t go out of your way to form meaningful, personal friendships beyond the virtual ones, you may lose the ability to do so in the future.
A sort of “use it or lose it” model. What was also intriguing about the article was that through these connections, you actually build up your biological capacity to not only empathize but also improve your health.

Heidegger probably had it right when he made the prescient statement, “Technology makes us at home everywhere and nowhere [at the same time].”

We are more connected than ever, yet we remain walled off behind our smartphones, mobile devices and computer screens.
Perhaps our communication tools are more cosmetic than we think; they have yet to master the ancient and inimitable art of human contact.
Your success is determined in large part by your ability to have a conversation. You can be the best at what you do, but if you’re not communicating effectively with clients, staff and the market, then you’re missing opportunities.
There are many different ways to look at communication in the small-business world from the individual formats such as writing and speaking, to different contexts such as client communication and employee management.
Each and every day you will be required to flex your communication muscles and interact; a bad conversation could spell disaster for an employee relationship, a customer or your business.
Alternatively, the right words at the right time could propel your business into places you didn’t think possible and can deliver opportunities that were not available before.

Geoff Hudson-Searle – Meaningful Conversations

We should all stay inspired with ideas and innovation, creating great things!

Interestingly, meaningful conversations are not restricted to, or guaranteed by, long-term relationships. I’ve had deeper conversations with strangers on an airplane than with some people I’ve known for decades.

Karen Salmansohn once said:

“Choose to focus your time, energy and conversation around people who inspire you, support you and help you to grow you into your happiest, strongest, wisest self.”

Social Media, H2H relationships and the smartphone

I recently had a very intriguing conversation with my social media and blog agency – we have those conversations normally at 11pm London time, every Sunday night. Jacques will ask me: “How are you my friend? Your blog for Monday is all set.” I will respond with: “I am Social Media worked out, so tired”, to which Jacques responds: “So just come off Social Media and concentrate on your writing, I still want to see your next book!”
At this point I laugh loudly, but the facts are, when Jacques said this to me it was a precious moment of introspection and reflection – some people call this a light bulb moment, the result is he is so right, and this is a subject I have written extensively about: ‘Is Human 2 Human Communication Dying’, ‘In the praise of speed or not, as the case may be’, ‘Has technology killed love and romance’, ‘Why are our H2H relationships so disconnected from life?’ – just to name a few.

One month after truly quitting Twitter (we even removed the Twitter-share buttons from the site), I feel much better: no incessant alerts anymore, no more sending only (without feedback). And, I actually found a true quality-alternative: interaction, feedback and participation – you can find me here: Geoff on beBee.

If you are emotionally attached to your smartphone and rely on it every waking minute, it may be harming your relationships – I find most accidents happen with people texting when they walk, not to mention what happens when you are in their line of the street. The new education for humans is how to avoid being knocked over by the person texting on their smartphone.

So how does social media affect interaction in our society? Will face-to-face communication ultimately diminish because of these new social technologies? These questions are ones that many researchers have found extremely intriguing since the advent and popularisation of social media in the last decade. Within this topic, social competency is an important ideal that most people strive towards, but there is evidence to support the claims that social media is actually harming people’s ability to interact competently in an offline setting.

Psychologists claim that increasing numbers of people in long-term partnerships are having to compete with their partner’s smartphone for attention, making it the ‘third wheel’ in their relationship.

A survey found that almost three quarters of women in committed relationships feel that smartphones are interfering with their love life and are reducing the amount of time they spend with their partner.

Scientists found that what they describe as this ‘technoference’ – even if infrequent – sets off a chain of negative events: more conflict about technology, lower relationship quality, lower life satisfaction and higher risk of depression.
• 62 per cent of women in long-term relationships who were surveyed said technology interferes with their free time together
• 35 per cent claim their partner will pull out his phone mid-conversation if they receive a notification
• 25 per cent said their partner actively texts other people during the couple’s face-to-face conversations
• 75 per cent said their smartphone is affecting their relationship.
The poll, which was conducted by Brandon McDaniel of The Pennsylvania State University and Sarah Coyne of Brigman Young University in Utah, surveyed 143 women.

Further studies on the social competency of youths who spend much of their time on social media networks are sometimes very conflicting. For example, a study executed by the National Institute of Health found that youths with strong, positive face-to-face relationships may be those most frequently using social media as an additional venue to interact with their peers. As a pretty outgoing person myself, I find myself using social media as an extra outlet to obtain real-time news feeds, research and interact with people who are interested in my book. Although I personally agree with this study’s findings, I also believe that social media can be an excellent avenue for introverted people to find a comfortable setting to interact and from the opposite it can drive a highly-motivated individual to isolation, loneliness and to mental health disorder.

I definitely believe that face-to-face interaction must continue to be our main source of communication. According to Forbes magazine, only 7% of communication is based on the verbal word. That means that over 90% of communication is based on nonverbal cues such as body language, eye contact, and tone of voice.

Scientists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences found that the brain chemicals of people who habitually used the Internet and were perhaps addicted to it had abnormal connections between the nerve fibers in their brain. These changes are similar to other sorts of addicts, including alcoholics.

Take “ghosting,” which has been discussed regularly in the media lately. The name refers to someone simply vanishing from another person’s life, usually after the two have gone on several dates. It’s a frustrating, confusing and, certainly, impolite way to end a relationship, but it’s not new.

The connected world’s larger behavioral impact is more on how we interact with each other on a daily basis. A 2014 study: “The iPhone Effect: The Quality of In-Person Social Interactions in the Presence of Mobile Devices” looked at the effects that phones have when people talk face-to-face. Observing 100 friendly couples having a 10-minute conversation while their phone was present, researchers noticed that the individuals still continued to fiddle with their phones. When those same couples conversed without a phone present, their conversations resulted in greater empathy.

A very interesting white paper named “Information in the Study of Human Interaction” by Keith Devlin and Duska Rosenberg states that in today’s world, most of us think of information as a commodity that is largely independent of how it is embodied. It can be bought, sold, stolen, exchanged, shared, stored, sent along wires and through the ether, and so forth. It can also be processed, using information technologies, both concepts that would have sounded alien (and probably nonsensical) to anyone living in the nineteenth century, and even the first half of the twentieth.

Little by little, Internet and mobile technology seems to be subtly destroying the meaningfulness of interactions we have with others, disconnecting us from the world around us, and leading to an imminent sense of isolation in today’s society. Instead of spending time in person with friends, we just call, text or instant message them. It may seem simpler and easier, but we ultimately end up seeing our friends face to face a lot less. Ten texts can’t even begin to equal an hour spent chatting with a friend over coffee, lunch or dinner. And a smiley-face emoticon is cute, but it could never replace the ear-splitting grin and smiling eyes of one of your best friends. Face time is important, people. We need to see each other.

This doesn’t just apply to our friends; it applies to the world around us. It should come as no surprise that face-to-face interaction is proven by studies to comfort us and provide us with some important sense of well-being.

There’s something intangibly real and valuable about talking with someone face to face. This is significant for friends, partners, potential employers, and other recurring people that make up your everyday world. That person becomes an important existing human connection, not just someone whose disembodied text voice pops up on your cell phone, iPad or computer screen.

While technology has allowed us some means of social connection that would have never been possible before, and has allowed us to maintain long-distance friendships that would have otherwise probably fallen by the wayside, the fact remains that it is causing us to spread ourselves too thin, as well as slowly ruining the quality of social interaction that we all need as human beings.

As Anthony Carmona once said:

“Social media websites are no longer performing an envisaged function of creating a positive communication link among friends, family and professionals. It is a veritable battleground, where insults fly from the human quiver, damaging lives, destroying self-esteem and a person’s sense of self-worth.”

Is Human to Human communication dying?

in person communicationThis week I was privileged to have coffee with a good friend of mine who flew into London from Tokyo on a business trip and somehow in his busy schedule and mine we managed to have breakfast at The Ritz on Piccadilly.

After a delicious but expensive breakfast, we discussed some of the week’s latest and most recent stories in the media that we came across by email, social media and other collaboration tools. We discussed one particular story where a mum exchanged text messages with her daughter who was in school. They ‘chatted’ back and forth, the mum asking how things were going and daughter answering with positive statements followed by emoticons showing smiles, b-i-g smiles and hearts. Happiness. Later that night, her daughter attempted suicide. It came to light that she’d been holed up in her room, crying, and showing signs of depression — a completely different reality from the one that she conveyed in texts, Facebook posts, and tweets.

As human beings, our only real method of connection is through authentic communication. Studies show that only 7% of communication is based on the written or verbal word. A whopping 93% is based on nonverbal body language. Indeed, it’s only when we can hear a tone of voice or look into someone’s eyes that we’re able to know when “I’m fine” doesn’t mean they’re fine at all.

Engrossed with technology, anyone can hide behind the text, the e-mail, the Facebook post, or the tweet, projecting any image they want and creating an illusion of their choosing. They can be whoever they want to be. And without the ability to receive nonverbal cues, their audiences are none the wiser.

This presents an unprecedented paradox. With all the powerful social technologies at our fingertips, we are more connected – and potentially more disconnected – than ever before.

Every relevant metric shows that we are interacting at fast speed and frequency through social media. But are we really communicating? With 93% of our communication context stripped away, we are now attempting to forge relationships and make decisions based on phrases. Abbreviations. Snippets. Emoticons. Which may or may not be accurate representations of the truth.

Social technologies have broken the barriers of space and time, enabling us to interact 24/7 with more people than ever before. But like any revolutionary concept, it has spawned a set of new barriers and threats. Is the focus now on communication quantity versus quality? Superficiality versus authenticity? In an ironic twist, social media has the potential to make us less social; a surrogate for the real thing. For it to be a truly effective communication vehicle, all parties bear a responsibility to be genuine, accurate, and not allow it to replace human contact altogether.

In the world of communications, email is now thought to be second fiddle to the likes of Twitter and Facebook. The always-on mentality has brought about these new ways to communicate that are faster than email, and much more fun.

face to faceIn the past we had a set of contacts, all of whom generally knew how to reach us via telephone, letter, or e-mail. Today, thanks in large part to social media and collaboration tools, there are many different levels of communicating. Our networks are larger than they’ve ever been, and we’ve more ways to communicate with those in them. Even if you’re not active on Facebook or Twitter, who you communicate with and how you communicate will probably have changed dramatically in the last year or two. This new connected era brings with it both opportunities and challenges, and it pays to know how to use each.

Studies from the Radicati Group show that 144.8 billion emails are sent every single day. Now that’s a lot of emails being passed back and forth! It doesn’t stop here, though. This number is projected to rise to 192.2 billion by 2016. Today, there are approximately 3.4 billion email accounts worldwide, with three-quarters of those owned by individual consumers.

A corporate cost and productivity analysis with some interesting if not alarming statistics is below:

  • The average worker checks their email 36 times per hour – Atlassian
  • The typical corporate user spends over 2 hours per day reading and responding to emails – McKinsey, the Social Economy
  • Professionals receive an average of 304 business emails per week – Atlassian
  • It typically takes 20-15 minutes to refocus on a project following an email – Microsoft
  • On average, the business user spends 28 hours per week writing emails – McKinsey

Add it up – pretty costly to an organisation and to the productivity (and sanity) of end users. According to NewsGator, “one Fortune 100 manufacturing company calculated that a simple 2% reduction in email volume could save $2.6 million per year”.

I think there needs to be a balance of email, social media and collaboration tools. What ever happened to picking up the phone? Or talking to someone face-to-face? Or do we not have time?