Why you should unplug more
John Carson was the cool English teacher with round, John Lennon glasses, and a dry and thoughtful wit. I was a trainee teacher and we were talking about students’ essays.
“It’s fascinating to encourage kids to write about how they constantly need to be wired up, rather than deal with silence, or even worse, be alone with their thoughts” said John.
He wasn’t referring to today’s mobile devices and this wasn’t a recent conversation.
It was 23 years ago and he was talking about a Sony Walkman, the portable cassette player.
“All this content is not making us content.”
Last week, I saw a Walkman in the V&A museum in London.
I found it incredible that this item has so quickly become an artefact displayed behind glass in a prestigious setting capturing how people used to live.
And whilst the Walkman is now relegated to history it heralded something we still experience these days: that thanks to galloping technological developments we never truly need to be alone.
There is a lot out there to be consumed, considered and commented upon.
And the result is that all this content is not making us content. It stifles our creativity, our thinking process and our ability to manage our emotions.
It also screws with our face to face communication.
MIT professor, Sherry Turkle writes about this in her book, Alone Together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other.
She explores the concept that whilst technology has allowed us to be more connected and more talkative it has come at the expense of genuine conversation.
Conversations with its pauses and hesitations, its awkward silences where we process our thoughts and open up as we get to know others, rather than curate our words in a pretty package for a public forum.
In Turkle’s TED talk, posted below this article, she shares her original excitement about accessing the online world because it meant we could share different aspects of ourselves, and here’s the kicker, “before we unplugged” highlighting the importance of deliberately unplugging.
This made me think of three things:
1) How many of us regularly unplug these days?
2) How many of us make it a practice to put away the devices and turn to our loved ones in the same room to have real, offline communication?
3) How many of us make it a practice to put away the devices before we have conversations and meetings at work and engage with our colleagues and give them the gift of our full attention?
With all this incessant, online chatter, Turkle says that we feel no-one really listens to us anymore.
“At work we’re so busy communicating that we don’t have time to talk or to think, we don’t have time to speak about the things that really matter.”
I recently stayed in a London hotel. One of my favourite features was the hotel lounge.
Cozy, with couches and cushions, there were bookcases containing gorgeous coffee table books and board games.
And there was not a television in sight.
I love the fact that whoever designed this space considered their guests had come away on holiday to spend time together and talk to one another.
But not quite so common today, sadly.
It makes me wonder whether in a few decades’ time the next generation will be visiting a museum, wearing headphones, and be standing in front of a mock-up of a hotel lounge…without a screen.
The museum visitors will shake their heads, laugh and tweet #Rememberthosedays?