“The beauty of this day doesn't depend on its lasting forever.”
~ Marty Rubin
One of my dearest friends lost her mother a year ago. Widowed for fifty years, this lovely woman created a world for herself and raised a family virtually alone. As my friend reminisces about the challenges observed and lessons learned from her mother, the thing she mentions most often is that her mother lived her life “fully present.” The situations she was placed in, both good and bad, and the people with whom she was surrounded consistently had her full and undivided attention.
Regardless of the setting, take a minute and observe your surrounding. Most people have their heads buried in some form of distraction. Perhaps it is a lunch date that insists on taking every phone call, email or text message that comes, or a family gathering where everyone is sitting in a room together but each is immersed in their own virtual reality while being oblivious to the reality sitting right next to them. Feeling insignificant can take on many forms but none is so chilling as being in the presence of someone who has checked out and is withdrawn regardless of the reason.
Now, I realize that my friend’s mother is from another generation where distractions were very different than they are now, but there are lessons that can be learned and applied to our contemporary situations. We live in a crazy, wonderful world that is changing almost weekly with the offering of technological conveniences that make my head spin. It is unbelievable what we are able to do with a single click - we can manage our homes, conduct banking, purchase anything in the world to be delivered to our front door, watch t.v. and movies, conduct meetings, manage our health, diets, workouts, find information to do almost anything and even meet a potential spouse in the palm of our hand.
Let’s be honest, much of what is available is quite remarkable, but a great deal of current applications are nothing more than time wasters. I am not trying to be sanctimonious about how people spend their time. We all relax in different ways and far be it from me to make judgments on how to do that. However, every time we check emails, Facebook, Twitter we pull ourselves from what we are doing to do something else. Most of my emails are junk that need to be deleted; Facebook has become more about surveys, silly tests, competitions to get the most “likes” and commercial promotions than about events of people I care about. Yet, we spend so much of our day “checking” it all.
Facebook sponsored a study looking at the amount of time people spend on their phones. They report that “four out of five people check their phones within 15 minutes of getting out of bed in the morning. Of all smartphone users 79% have their phone on or near them for all but two hours of their waking day; 63% keep it with them for all but one hour. A full quarter of respondents couldn’t recall a single time of the day when their phone wasn’t in the same room as them.” Some of the behavior is considered to be compulsive behavior similar to shopping or eating and has been determined to undermine relationships.
Ironically, with all that connectedness we find ourselves as a society getting more isolated. There is nothing personal about a text message, a media post or an email. As miraculous as this technology is, there is no substitution for a face to face conversation, a real live hug, a verbally delivered compliment or a friendly conversation over lunch or dinner. “One recent study from the University of Essex even shows that just having a cell phone nearby during personal conversations -- even if neither of you are using it -- can cause friction and trust issues. Do your relationship a favor and pay your partner some exclusive attention for 10 minutes. It can make a big difference.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/14/multitasking-dont-do-it-yall_n_3436810.html
As a shameless multi-tasker, I wrestle because we CAN do so many things at the same time. And trust me, I am tempted to DO a variety of things at once. In the same Huffington Post article, the assertion is made that people caught up in this type of multi-tasking or distraction while engaging in something else, fail to see obvious things happening right in front of them. “According to a 2009 study from Western Washington University, 75% of college students who walked across a campus square while talking on their cell phones did not notice a clown riding a unicycle nearby. The researchers call the ‘inattentional blindness,’ saying that even though the cell-phone talkers were technically looking at their surroundings, none of it was actually registering in their brains.”
Being fully present is a choice that we exercise. Just like everything else, we are the ones with the power and the wisdom to use discretion in all we do. Choosing how and when to be accessible to our families, our friends, our colleagues and customers, and the world is a definite option. The way we use technology unfortunately sends the message that those we are with are unimportant. Are we attentive to those we interact with or do we suffer from “inattentional blindness”? The world may offer us the ability or even the expectation to be completely accessible at all times, but we do not have to comply.
My husband has been a trial lawyer for thirty plus years. In the beginning of his practice the gathering of information took time. A professional could only run as fast as the information could be acquired and delivered. I have observed the change over the years as information became acquired with ever increasing speed. There almost comes with it the potential for virtually no down time. Many professionals cannot currently run fast enough to keep up with the firehose of information that gushes continually and the subsequent expectation that goes with it. For many working people, emails come in the middle of the night, orders are placed on holidays, phone calls come in the evening and on weekends. Vacations are even difficult because we can always be reached, and we are programmed to “feel the need” to be accessible anywhere.
The one constant in this world is change. Times may change. The way we do things may change. However, twenty four hours in a day is STILL all we have. Our humanity STILL requires that we work and that we have adequate rest to meet our demands. The way we care and interact on a human level is the SAME way that is has always been. Feeling significant and important in the lives of those we care about and that care about us is a basic human need. Dare to unplug and live fully present in the moment especially when we are around those we care about. That personal interaction most likely will be far more satisfying than learning which celebrity you most likely resemble…..and it will matter next week, next month and next year.