The other day I scored major points with my son. He indirectly mentioned his concern about my iPhone obsession by commenting about how another soccer mom watched her phone more than the game.

“She’s reaaaaaaally manic about her phone, Mom,” he eyed me closely. He was looking for hand tremors, involuntary eye-twitching or anything to reveal whether or not I could take on his veiled challenge. (To my defense, I do watch his games, not my phone, but it is usually in my pocket, tugging at my thoughts even as I focus on the field).

In an effort to prove him I could do without my phone not only on the sidelines, but also in life, I snapped it off mid-day in the middle of my work week and headed for the pool.

“Looks like it’s going to be a hot one. And look, Son, I’m leaving my phone at home.” He raised not one, but both eyebrows as he watched me turn it off completely and calmly place it in the cupboard.

Can you hear the slot machine go ka-ching? Yes, I scored big with him that day. And you know what? Instead of drawing my attention to my phone screen, I had plenty of time to watch other people do it instead.

Is that really what I do all day? I watched people cling to their devices like an emphesymic patient to his oxygen tank. Because I knew my phone was at home, I felt more energetic, as if that holding pattern of “what is someone calls/texts/emails me” had been eradicated. And in truth, it had.

It appears many more of us are engaging in digital distractions than not these days.

My Wall Street trader friend on Twitter @StalinCruz pointed out an article about distracted walking that underscores our often harmful obsession with smartphones. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, 1,152 Americans have been injured in handheld digital device-related events while walking in the past few years. A man recently fell onto the train tracks in Philadelphia while playing with his phone. Luckily, he was not seriously injured, but it shows how all-consuming our electronics have become that we don’t even notice the danger of our own behavior.

A University of Maryland study spanning six years found 116 cases in which pedestrians were killed or seriously injured while wearing headphones, two-thirds of whom were men under the age of 30. Fifty percent of the cases involved trains, while 33% were incidents in which a warning horn was sounded just before the accident.

Believe it or not, I have friends who leave their cellphones behind when we meet. We enjoy hours-long conversations without the need to cache, photograph or Facebook every moment we spend together for their broader network. I find when I’m with people who’d rather update their social media status than update me on their lives, it is a classic cocktail party experience in which they are looking over your shoulder for someone better to interact with. It’s distracting at best. And in the case of walking, talking and texting, it can be lethal too.

Take the no phone zone challenge today. Leave that mobile behind and reconnect with people in the flesh with your eyes, ears and fingertips at the ready for a real, not virtual, human interaction. Turning on to life is worth it.

Trust me on this one.

 

 

Information overload is no longer just a symptom. It is the disease itself.

I tried to skype a friend recently. Her landline and cell phone were ringing in both her ears simultaneously. She placed her hands to both sides to block out the noise (it was fruitless). Thousands of miles away, I became overloaded by her information flow, too. I was guilty of forgetting to turn off my Tweetdeck so incessant pinging laced our Web chat.

But help is here. Information Overload Day is August 12th. Basex, a savvy company that no doubt offers purchaseable solutions to IO (that’s information overload for You Underloaded), is hosting a Web event to offset too much input.  

jugglerWhile I’m basking under the Southern sun at my family’s farm, Web conference participants who pledge not to multitask during the length of the conference get a 50% discount on their tickets (which are $50).

Mutlitasking is a myth, anyway. As my friend, whose ears were blocked by the sounds of messages singing and pinging, proved, we can only handle so much information. Hopefully, this conference will be just the thing to help others get a grip on data surfeit, too.

Last week in New York City, I sat down with Distracted author Maggie Jackson for a rare face-to-face interview. It was rare because most of the interviews I conduct are through the digital medium, either via phone, Skype or email. We enjoyed a cup of chamomille tea at a quaint Swedish cafe just off Columbus Circle where, during one of my previous visits, I had spotted Scarlett Johansson rushing by while chatting on her cell phone.

Once we got acquainted, our discussion quickly turned to one of the subjects in her book that is most pressing on my mind – the blending of man and distractedmachine. Digital devices are rapidly becoming extensions of ourselves. Quickly surveying the Manhattan landscape, you are guaranteed to see at least five people with a cell phone or BlackBerry pressed to their skull at any given moment. I had to ponder whether that man on the corner who was smiling into space was actually directing his humor at me or at the pinky-sized ear attachment that blinked periodically as he spoke.

“Our constant connectivity leaves little time for self-reflection,” Maggie aptly stated. She pointed to the surfeit of information we handle on a daily basis. “Virtuality [on some level] trumps ‘reality’.” We have built worlds based on digital data. And now it’s portable, too.

Cultivating our inner self comes when we give our thoughts time and space to unfold. Take the recent Miss USA debacle in which Miss California took a stand against gay marriage. It is said that Miss California felt she was the true winner of the Miss USA pagent because of the number of Facebook friend requests and tweets she received. If that is true, it does not bode well for our children’s generation. Internet ranking as the benchmark for morality? A scary prospect indeed.

“Twitter, by its nature, is very reductive. It accentuates the trivial,” Maggie suggested. She was quick to point out how Twitter exacerbates our love of the instantaneous. Instant gratification informs who we are as a nation. Don’t make me wait. Give me the answers now. Yet, at what cost?

I thought about this as I stepped off the plane at Munich’s International airport. The air was a blend of spring and serenity. People weren’t generally moving at the speed of a Tweet. I returned home to my non-existent couch that I had ordered seven weeks ago.

“You’ll receive it in the eighteenth calendar week,” the sales rep stated, not without a tinge of annoyance that I should expect it any sooner. I marveled at the cultural differences between the US and Germany for a moment. The power of slow shone through once again. Some things take time. We needn’t rush it. The furniture store hasn’t learned about citizen journalism or Twitter yet. Perhaps a new social media movement will provide the tipping point that will make the furniture industry in Europe self-adjust. Given the speed at which Germany moves, it may take decades before they catch up.

And that might not be such a bad thing, after all.

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