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Technology and Society - In Our Wired World, It Pays to Unplug From Time to Time

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         Views: 1108
2007-07-18 14:00:15     
Article by Steve Cebalt

When did we become afraid of our own thoughts? It seems that today we are in a constant race to fill every second of our time with some sort of activity. Cell phones, Blackberries, laptops and other devices enable us to be in touch with our loved ones - or our boss - around the clock. In exchange, many people have entered a devil's bargain, gaining the dubious benefit of 24/7 connectivity and giving up a large part of their ability to think, reflect, relax and recharge.

My wife, Martha, just told me that our cell-phone plan includes unlimited weekends. "But we have to be careful during the week," she said.

"We only have 1,000 minutes a month."Do the math. That's 16.6 hours a month to talk on a cell phone during the 22 average weekdays per month. "How could you possibly exceed that limit?" I asked."You'd be surprised," Martha said.

I am surprised. I have a cell phone but loaned it to my daughter a long time ago because I never used it. Like many people where I live in Fort Wayne, Indiana (unlike Chicago, Detroit, Boston, New York), I enjoy the fact that commuting time is minimal. I enjoy the time in the car. It's a time to think, unwind and just enjoy some solitude. Why would I want to trade that for some idle chitchat? Who would I call? What would we talk about?

It's partly an age-and-gender thing. Many middle-aged men with teenage kids stop answering phones because it's never for you. Never.

Once I was at a local high school when the students got out of school. Nearly every student who had a car got in and immediately got on the cell phone while exiting the very busy parking lot. What are they discussing? And do these novice drivers need the distraction?

While I was writing this, my oldest daughter called me on her cell phone. She was on a beach in Florida for vacation. She called me to complain that her iPod wasn't working - again. I said, "That's a shame, but maybe while you're on the beach you could just listen to the sounds of the waves and the seagulls and the laughter of children building sandcastles.""Yeah, right," she said.

Some people kid themselves that using a cell phone makes them more productive. Certainly it can be a useful tool. A wife might call her husband to say, "Stop and get milk on the way home." That's useful.

But often business associates will call me on their cell phone to conduct business while they are driving between appointments. I resent it a bit. I know I am not getting that person's full attention, because like it or not, driving a 6,000-pound car responsibly does require some attention. They don't have access to their files, can't safely take notes, and the conversation is subject to the whims of wireless connections. ("Can you hear me now?") It makes them feel more productive, but at my expense.

Also, I can't overlook the fact that cell phones impair a driver's ability as much as being drunk, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. Cell-phone drivers - whether using handheld or hands-free devices - are four times as likely to cause a crash. So again, I resent it when I see other drivers on their cell phones, putting others at risk - and for what?

Ernest Hemingway said, "Never mistake motion for action." Multitasking doesn't make us more productive. New research shows that it is more productive to do one thing at a time than to toggle between multiple tasks - in fact, percent more productive.

My larger question is, what are we running from? Why are we afraid of a little down-time? Are we afraid of our own thoughts? Must we always be "doing something?" When we do something, isn't one thing enough, such as driving? Think about it: Have any of the great moments of your life occurred while you were using a cell phone or Blackberry or laptop? How many great ideas or inspirations are being missed because of misspent energy due to multitasking?

Ponder this: What happens if you do not recharge your cell phone? Now, what happens if you do not recharge your mind and spirit?

Steve Cebalt of Bottom Line Public Relations is Founder of the Social Marketing Leadership Roundtable in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He specializes in marketing, advertising and public relations issues of interest to nonprofit communications professionals.

Specialized in: Society
URL: http://www.bottomlinepr.com
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