Being There, or Thereabouts!

by DavalosMcCormack on September 17, 2008

I was at a management conference the other day. There were several hundred people there but to be honest half of them were only there part of the time. They were constantly checking their Crackberrys, emailing, texting and doing anything but listening, so┬áthat although they were there, they weren’t truly present. Their bodies were in the room but their brains were elsewhere. Which got me thinking (and that takes some doing!) – how do you know where you are when you are always somewhere else?

Now, none of us are immune to this. I’ve been to conferences where it is so boring that not only my brain but also my body wanted to be elsewhere. However, you can only really become aware of this if you are paying at least some attention to what’s going on around you. At the conference I was at recently most people seemed to arrive distracted and, apart from brief moments of engagement, stayed that way.

Now, if it were just at dreary conferences that people behaved that way it wouldn’t be bad, but this kind of behaviour seems to be increasingly typical of how many of us interact with the world around us. Distracted seems to be our normal state of mind.

At work we are checking in with friends about what we are doing after work or arranging with family members who is going to be taking which kid to soccer practice and which one to swimming. After work when we’re with those friends or those family members we’re busy talking on the phone to other friends or checking email to see what’s happened at work since we left. Or sometimes we’re just blocking everything out by listening to our iPod or playing around with our cool new iPhone (not that I have one you understand)

Either way, half the time we are not where we are, we’re somewhere else. Most of the time that isn’t a big deal, but occasionally it can be. For instance investigators say the engineer of the train that crashed recently in Los Angeles may have been sending text messages moments before the accident. That crash left at least 25 people dead, dozens more injured, many critically.

That’s an extreme example obviously but how many car accidents have been caused by people talking on the phone while driving. And recently the American College of Emergency Physicians issued a warning about the dangers of “oblivious texting” after seeing an increase in the numbers of patients coming to the ER who had walked into walls or lamp posts while sending text messages.

We all drift in and out of attention from time to time. That’s perfectly normal. Probably healthy too, gives our brain a breather now and then. But it seems that the more technology we add into our lives, the more ‘connected’ we are, the more distracted we become. Most of us are probably not even aware of it anymore. Because everyone else is acting the same we consider it ‘normal’ behaviour. But when you see two people sitting together in a cafe or restaurant, and they are ignoring each other because they are on their cell phones talking to other people, you have to wonder if our concept of normal needs some adjusting.

Maybe, once in a while, if we are out with someone we should turn our phone off, put the laptop to ‘sleep’ and actually pay attention to them, listen to what they have to say. You never know, you might find you actually enjoy having a conversation. You might even find you enjoy being in the same room as yourself. Give it a try. It can’t hurt.

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