As Randi Zuckerberg writes in her book, Dot Complicated, attention comes at a premium in our wired world. We don't have to look far to see how valuable our presence really is, everywhere, but especially at home and at work where our relationships are at the center of everything we do.
In Dot Complicated, Zuckerberg writes, "Your presence is no longer a sign that you're actually paying attention." So true. As Sherry Turkle writes, this is a spin on "Phubbing," otherwise known as Phone/Snubbing. She writes, "College students tell me they know how to look someone in the eye and type on their phones at the same time, their split attention undetected. They say it's a skill they mastered in middle school when they wanted to text in class without getting caught. Now they use it when they want to be both with their friends and, as some put it, 'elsewhere.'"
Take this familiar scene: Colleagues sit around the table at a meeting presenting their findings on a project. More often than not, people are surreptitiously texting under the table, or multitasking on their email, all the while, maintaining eye contact. A senior partner at a law firm told me that he spent hours of unbillable time preparing a white paper on the firm's challenges around diversity. When he presented it to the executive committee, no one was listening. Of course, they were physically in the room, looking at him, but no one was really present. He could feel it and see it. He walked out frustrated and even angry, wondering, "Why did I bother?"
With our kids, it's same thing. We see it all the time--kids tugging at their parents' sleeves, us absentmindedly saying just a sec. What is distracting us? Our phones, of course. Yes, it may be work-related or scheduling something for the kids. But they don't know the difference, or care. They just want our attention.
And we need to figure out ways to give it.
A good friend and neighbor, David Kranich, noticed one way we lose ourselves in our phones and resolved to fix it. You know that horrible thing that happens when you are watching your kids at their sporting event or dance performance, and you take out your phone just to take a picture, really...but before you know it, you are scrolling through all the texts your colleague just sent, and oops, you missed the winning goal!? Well, David set out to give parents a break with a company called Coverd.
Coverd sends professional photographers out to take photos at all kind of events, edits out the bad photos (a big time-save) and then hands over the jpgs for printing, gifts for grandparents--all at a very reasonable price. Coverd does the work, so parents can sit back, enjoy the experience, and best of all, leave their phones in their bags.
In the workplace, maybe we should think about taking a cue from the old-school physician's practice of having a scribe in the room with patients so that the doctor can actually listen to what the patient has to say. Imagine! This could include offering notebooks and pens to people in meetings to avoid the old "I have to take notes on my laptop" excuse which is often code for, "I am dying to check my twitter feed."
This is what we need to think about for the Third Space--how to integrate technology, develop workarounds and protocols, so that we can enjoy the fruits of technology without missing out on our lives.
And in the meantime, any effort we can make to be more attentive at our child's next event, or collegial moment at work will be appreciated by everyone involved.