Living without your smart phone – a moment of panic

The other day I left home in a cab heading to the city and discovered I’d left my iPhone mobile at home. The realisation left me momentarily feeling sick; I would be out of the office until lunchtime. I would not be in contact in case my children needed me, the school called, my office, my team, prospects, media, customers, my aged mother, new possible recruits from a job ad we’d just placed. For a good few minutes I dealt with a very real sense of panic as my driver and I toyed with the idea of turning around in the middle of rush hour — until, like the feeling at the end of a good movie I leant back in the seat and just breathed.

I experienced an extraordinary moment of calm and a ‘circumstances out of my control’ moment. I noticed the cab driver and the state of the car, the sound of the engine, I took in the view looking out of the window and enjoyed the harbour view as I crossed the bridge and I listened to the music on the radio. I slowed down my thinking and breathed, thinking through rationally the worst case scenarios that could happen.

It sounds like an over dramatisation, but it’s pretty close to the truth. I thought about the calls I was missing, the e-mails I was not replying to, the tweets I was not tweeting and the Facebook posts I was not commenting on. I thought of who may need me. My heart rate slowed, I entered deeper thought on some of the issues on my mind and that morning, I walked in the city, without the phone plugged to my ear, crossed roads with more focus and sat in receptions waiting for meetings thinking rather than typing.

It was almost serene. A great moment of reckoning that the world would continue without me being connected — the feeling was semi joyous. So much so, it made me think the real estate of the future will be anonymity. The joy of not being found. Could you live for the morning unconnected?

My teenage daughters almost carry their mobile phones on their bodies. The phone is an extension of themselves. My team flick from mobile to social media sites while the pace in my office is extraordinarily fast — like a trading room floor. So is that the right way to operate? When are we too involved? Too connected?

When my friend Iggy Pintado and I were hosting a social media seminar a few months ago, Iggy asked our audience “How many of you have turned your phone to silent, rather than turning it off during this presentation?” Every hand in the room rose. Eighty people could not bear to be separated from their phone for the hour we were presenting. So why is it so difficult to turn off your mobile or just leave the thing at home? Are we so scared to miss something?

Today, people spend on average 66 hours (outside of work) on their computers every month and there are more than 200 billion e-mails sent around the globe daily which is more than 90 trillion per annum. It’s well known, that Facebook has more than 500 million users and if it were a country would have the third largest population in the world behind China and India. There are more than 234 million websites registered with the average internet user viewing 2600 pages per month.

Are we entering a new world of connection online and un-connection in the real world? Are we entering a shallowness of thought and media reporting that is based around the speed and immediacy of information, rather than the depth of thought and consideration? Is this a growing trend that will never reverse and only increase in intensity? Are we too concerned at missing something rather than on deeper, more meaningful exchanges? Can each of our worlds really exist without being connected 24/7?

I think a few mornings of no phone, for each of us would be a healthy option. Living multiple online personas, unable to enjoy a coffee or a meeting without having the phone out on the table? Constantly updating and following what other online personas are saying and doing, is exhausting and bordering on psychotic.

A strategy day with high-level executives in my office yesterday resulted in every participant’s phone being on the table, turned to silent but next to the coffee cup — just in case.

Is ignorance really bliss?

We are entering a world where generations will know nothing of the peace of no connectivity. Perhaps ‘smart technology’ is in danger of making us less smart and more frenetic. I for one will make it a conscious decision to forget my mobile more often!


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