Phones-Down, Hands-Off

Posted: September 9, 2013 in General Interest

20130906-203902Senator John McCain was recently caught playing digital poker during a critical Senate hearing on possible United States involvement in Syria. What’s interesting was his reaction. He didn’t care enough to apologize, he actually seemed proud about the fact that he obviously wasn’t  paying attention.

The developing crisis in Syria has effected hundreds of civilians with Doctors Without Borders reporting up to 355 deaths due to poisonous gas. This sounds kinda important right? Like something pretty serious right?

Yet Mr McCain, a decorated Navy veteran, who was also a POW, who is all too familiar with the horrors of war, figured his on-line poker game was more important than staying mentally present and engaged in the proceedings.

Proof positive of how easily we rely on virtual recreation even if it leads to rudeness, and disregard for the seriousness of chemical warfare.

I’ve sat through whole meetings, (sending sneak text messages to people across the room) been at the movies, and church services watching people text, play games, visit Facebook, tweet. Basically doing anything besides pay attention. Have you ever been talking face to face with something and just whip out your phone and start aimlessly digitizing? That’s pretty much the equivalent of opening a newspaper and holding it up in front of your face, as a barrier between you and the other person. I’m totally guilty of this myself. How did this get to be OK?

I spent seven “phone free” hours on Saturday. It wasn’t on purpose, I accidentally left my phone at home and happily went to hang out. When I first discovered I didn’t have it, I almost felt like I’d left one of my arms at home. After awhile, it was kind of peaceful. There wasn’t really anything I needed to do on my phone. I didn’t get bored. I stayed in the moment and connected to the people around me. I could feel my brain slow down without that easy access to infinite information.

I went to a street festival, and my good friend SP was going to meet me there. I wondered how she’d find me without my phone. The festival was packed, and covered multiple locations, and was full of drunk people, but guess what? We found each other without much difficulty using our natural God-given eyeballs that are stuck in our heads, lol. No  signals pinging off satellite towers, no reliance on location services. No phone call with our favorite secret agent greeting, to “I.D. your location”. I only borrowed SP’s phone once, to place a carry out order for pizza, when the pizza joint answered, I told them what I wanted, and was told that due to the street festival, they were only offering a very limited menu. When I asked what was on it, the guy rudely asked “You mean you want me to read the menu to you?”, I just as rudely replied “Yes, unless you want me to guess what’s on it.” Needless to say, they didn’t get our business, and that was a call I could have skipped. The only thing I worried about was that someone would try to contact me about a family emergency and think I was MIA. Fortunately, that didn’t happen.

I’m doing a big presentation for work on Tuesday. Before I start I’m gonna ask everyone whose phones are visible on the conference room table, to please turn them face-down, keep their hands off, and to leave them that way. I could ask them to turn their phones off, but at our meetings, that’s like asking someone to stop breathing. I want to try this experiment to see if we can resist the urge to peek, and see if we all stay engaged and in the moment.

Wish me luck.

  1. Lexi says:

    I think that’s a fabulous idea for your meeting. I did a presentation about listening and ran a couple of different exercises and it was difficult for people. I can’t wait to hear how the meeting goes.

    Also, I try to spend one day a week phone free. I haven’t been as diligent, but this post has inspired me to get back on it.

    Also, when out with friends to encourage active participation have everyone put their phones in the middle of the table face down and If you touch your you have to pay the whole bill. It’s a fun little game.


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