As a university student, back in the 1990s, I knew just a small handful of students that carried a mobile phone. Today as I dropped my sons off at school, children under the age of 10 were handing their phones in to the office for safe-keeping. Times have changed.
More than ever before we are connected. Technology enables us to contact and be contacted 24/7, regardless of where in the world we are. What we now know as “social media” has exploded from something that was unheard of twenty years ago, to being utterly pervasive today. What’s not to love about that?
The background noise of the world has changed. Birdsong, the wind in the trees, a gentle buzz of conversations and the rumble of traffic have been supplemented by a drone of beeps and buzzes, chirps and chimes. It’s a soundtrack of new messages, status updates and announcements. A friend-of-a-friend posted a picture of their lunch.
It’s nigh impossible to escape the onslaught but is all this connection a good thing? Does it strengthen our relationship to know instantly that my distant relative’s train was delayed. Sad face. Sad face. Like.
More significantly, what of the effect on my here-and-now relationship; ignoring my lunch guests, interrupting my children’s bedtime story or the conversation with my spouse to read trivia about someone I met once.
Two years ago I took the decision to switch off new-mail notifications on my work laptop. Recently I went a step further, deciding it unnecessary to even have an email client installed. I have an app to block distracting websites whilst I’m working. My phone is switched off most of the time.
Being disconnected from the distractions of the instant allows me to focus on the important. I can better be fully present and engaged. Work becomes more productive. Real, in-person, off-line relationships (you know, the ones that matter most) become stronger.
I’m not completely anti social media, recommending on-line relationships be abandoned. No, they should be given appropriate attention; scheduled for a time that doesn’t detract from more pressing priorities. My comment on your selfie will be no less fitting later this evening.
What small thing can you do today to minimise distractions and give priority to strengthening your closest relationships? It could be as simple as switching off those social media notifications.