Recently I was having lunch in a hotel restaurant, at a table next to a family of four who were only noticeable because they sat in absolute silence. The parents where on their phones, the pre-teenager children were glued to tablets. Their meals arrived just after mine and for around 20 seconds their gaze drifted from the screen onto the cutlery, then to the plates, then back to the screens. The eating motions happened almost automatically, with only a few occasional seconds to navigate the cutlery to the food.
Remembering my manners, I tried hard not to keep looking, but there was no chance whatsoever that they would have noticed if I had. After their food was consumed, they sat for another half an hour in silence, during which point I started to look around the restaurant and was taken aback by the replica behaviour on a dozen more tables. The place was almost silent and almost every diner was on a digital device.
I almost wish I could say I don’t suffer from this type of behaviour but the reality is I may be equally guilty of over-reliance on digital connectivity. This morning I was having a conversation with a friend over breakfast and neither of us had brought our phones to the restaurant. We were trying to explain an exotic location and soon realised that we were sub-consciously reaching for an invisible device to open a Google image search. Later we were working out the cost of something and again, the lack of a calculator meant we were forced to work out the sum in our heads. It was painful!
The thing is, our connected devices are making our lives so much easier and quicker. They enable long distance to be non-existent. They enable instant access to the hardest of questions. It’s really no surprise we are so reliant on digital connectivity – but with what cost?
As I’ve often said before, since the dawn of innovation we’ve been struck with a paradox. Fire on demand was one of the first innovations we managed and immediately we were faced with options ranging from warming our caves, to burning our enemies. Reaching a balance is a process that usually happens after a period of saturation. When we find a new thing to do that we enjoy the benefit of, we tend to do it a lot until we find the way it best fits in our lives. I’m convinced that we’re at the starting point of connectivity and haven’t even scratched the surface yet in terms of how addicted we are to digital activity.
I suspect we are getting used to how instant our gratification is by using these tools. Our expectation for things to appear upon a single tap on a screen, has matured from communications to entertainment, shopping and even relationships. The younger people of today don’t even remember a time when you couldn’t do these things. The digital natives expect instant gratification in all things now – educated by how they view the world through a screen. I often wonder what type of companies they will create? What does industry look like when it is built by people who have a default expectation of instantaneous?
I’d like to make a plea for some analogue to be included in how we raise our children and how we conduct our relationships. Of course we should continue to use the brilliant technologies to solve problems, but with a balance of non-digital reality included. I’d like us all to consider this balance as a priority and pro-actively prioritise non-digital meetings and non-digital solutions. This is a paradox and paradoxes aren’t problems, they don’t have outright solutions. All we have is balance. If, heaven forbid, one of the family members sitting in the restaurant were to pass away later that day, would the remaining family members wish they had conducted a conversation or expressed some emotion at lunch? Do you think they may have re-prioritised things if they knew that non-digital life and relationships are more precious than Facebook?
We have a limited number of days in our lives and I believe that how we balance our activity is of paramount importance.