Timothy Leary popularized the saying, "Turn on, tune in, and drop out," during the 1960s.
But as our electronic devices threaten to overwhelm our relationships, our senses, and our peace of mind, I suggest a new one for the foreseeable future:
Turn off, tune out, and drop in!
And I owe MIT professor Sherry Turkle a huge debt of gratitude for prompting this idea.
How many times have you talked with someone who insists on splitting his or her attention between you and an iPhone?
This troubling trend in our culture is the subject of Turkle's recent New York Times opinion piece, "Stop Googling. Let's Talk," based on her forthcoming book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age.
It's not a new phenomenon. In "Kamikaze Bingo," a 2005 episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David expresses annoyance (imagine that) when his wife Cheryl divides her attention at lunch between Larry and her BlackBerry.
David surely would support Turkel's call for a change in how we regard our devices and one another:
We can choose not to carry our phones all the time. We can park our phones in a room and go to them every hour or two while we work on other things or talk to other people. We can carve out spaces at home or work that are device-free, sacred spaces for the paired virtues of conversation and solitude. Families can find these spaces in the day to day -- no devices at dinner, in the kitchen and in the car... In the workplace, too, the notion of sacred spaces makes sense: Conversation among employees increases productivity.
As I discuss in my new book, The Good Ones: Ten Crucial Qualities of High-Character People, our obsession with our devices isn't merely a psychological problem. It's an ethical one, because the time we spend on social media is an opportunity cost: we're not doing other things that might be more important. That nearly irresistible pull to check our latest Facebook posts or take yet another a peek at our inboxes threatens to derail promises we've made to clients, colleagues, family and friends.
I've been making it a point to leave my iPhone behind when I go for a walk or out to dinner. As Turkle notes, it's liberating to be free from the tyranny of constant emails and the Internet.
What do you do to balance the needs of being online and connecting with other people? I'd love to know.
By the way, I've written a smartphone pledge to promote the smarter use of our devices, and companies have been adopting it in their workplaces. If you'd like a copy, just send me an email.
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