First, to be fair, this comment wasn’t made to me. Well, me alone, anyway. And, to be fair, it wasn’t a comment that was made to me recently, well, that recently, anyway.
This past summer, my oldest daughter was trying to get my attention and that of my wife’s. We were engrossed in our devices, as many of us are daily, and after trying to get our attention a few times, my daughter said, “Can you put your phones down?”
And we did, but it was a troubling comment for her to make, no doubt, and a trouble one for us to hear. We, like many other adults, are caught in the web of our devices. And we need to find a way to stop, and set ourselves free (or at least be able to wiggle loose a bit).
While the constant influx of information is great, and while the “group-think” nature of “Hey, everyone else is looking at their phones, so I should too” is tough to resist, we can’t hope to build relationships with our devices; after all, they are simply just extensions of ourselves.
But, we can hurt relationships with “real people” by being so involved with our devices that we lose the opportunity to engage in great conversations, see the world around us, or simply, be in the moment.
My daughter’s question prompted us both to step away from ourselves and consider how weird it must look to a child to see both parents staring down at their phones, rather than staring into the eyes of their child. As a society, have gone a long way from focusing on people first.
Now granted, many of our interactions via our devices are about people. But, whether we are talking professional or personal, we have to become more comfortable letting go of the connections our devices provide to focus instead on the connections we can get from the people in the same room as us. While, at least in my opinion, connecting virtually will always allow us to reach more people, I’m not yet convinced that connecting virtually is enough to make those connections close or most meaningful.
I recently read a piece, “How the Web Almost Killed Me” by Andrew Sullivan in the Week (called “I Used to Be A Human Being” in New York Magazine) that details how the desire to be informed and connected can lead us to sever connections with those who are most important. I was struck not only with how Sullivan’s life was impacted, but also the similarities that exist between his life and mine (as well as many others I know).
Leadership is first and foremost about people, and if we spend all our time engaged with our devices, than we can’t spend all our time engaged with the people in our schools, buildings, communities, and lives.