My heart sank when I read the cover of Time Magazine this week: “Never Offline.”
Then I flashed on the cover’s troubling image — a person’s arm embedded with technology, evoking a Matrix-like world that erases the line between humans and machines.
This is our future, the subtitle reads, “like it or not.”
Well, I don’t like it. Not for me. Not for you. Not for the executives I advise. And definitely not as a path through the thicket of today’s most vexing problems.
The expectation of being connected around the clock is now a given of corporate life. Conference call invites, meeting requests, project updates, iterations of the latest Power Point deck. Yet the “Never Offline” notion misses a crucial point. Only the people who can manage this relentless onslaught of digital distractions will succeed, today or in the future.
In reality, professionals who are “never offline” spend far too much time reacting and far too little time leading or solving problems. They get seduced by the tactical, forgetting to put the gadgets away in order to think deeply about strategic issues. They start to accept relating to other people in the “virtual” world, neglecting the intimacy that personal relationships require to thrive – the kind you create face-to-face. They make decisions in a frenzied, buzzing state of mind, underestimating the impact that constant connectivity has on the functionality of the brain.
Hyper-connectivity is not only bad for your health. It’s also bad for your business.
Insist on Balance
In her book Dot Complicated, Facebook veteran Randi Zuckerberg offers a new twist on an old idea. She says it’s time to move beyond the notion of “work-life” balance, and think instead of “online-offline” balance. Yes, much in our lives today, both personal and professional life, leads us to the internet. It’s up to us to ensure that we spend some portion of our time at home and at work doing something else.
Admittedly, I’m not an early adopter. But I do understand the value of technology, and I’m an avid user of the Net. My point isn’t about rejecting the stuff: it’s about taking a stand for balance. On this front I’m with Randi: even one of the founding leaders of Facebook doesn’t advocate for us to live “never offline.”
Where to Start?
Are you interested in experimenting with a mindset different from the cover of Time Magazine? Like “Sometimes Offline”? If you are, here are three places to get started.
- Set aside no-technology zones. The dinner table. The bedroom. Even the bathroom. No place seems safe from the intrusion of the gadgets. Start small by carving out a space or two where no technology is allowed. You can also carve out no-technology zones in time. Sunday mornings before noon. Evenings after ten pm. Notice what’s different in those places or times after you protect these zones for a while.
- Actually talk to your colleagues. Each day, reclaim some time for real human connection. If you’ve developed the habit of texting or instant messaging a colleague who sits down the hall, stand up and go visit her desk for a quick conversation instead of holding a virtual exchange. If you’re stuck on an endless thread of messages about a project, ask the people in the office to get off email and meet in the conference room. Yes, the people you work with aren’t necessarily nearby. But that’s no excuse to stop relating in person with the people who are physically located in your building.
- Eat meals without your Smartphone (or soon to be Smart Watch) nearby.Your heart and mind get overstimulated by constant incoming information. This disturbs the needed rest or “recovery” time you need between bursts of productive focus. When you sit down for lunch, whether you’re alone or with other people, turn the screens off and let yourself settle down. Instead of jumping from one hyperlink to another, see how you feel as your breathing slows down, your thoughts come a bit more slowly, and you reflect on things instead of taking in something new.
How do you strike the online-offline balance? Do you have ground rules for gadgets? Do you put the phones down at the dinner table? Do you limit the “screen time” for your kids, but not for yourself? I’d love to hear your comments.