Babies and Bath Water

Many years ago, when more and more corporations were putting PCs on people’s desks, opening up access to email, the internet, and (egads!) even instant messaging, multi-tasking became a hot topic in large corporations.

A group of managers in my then-organization were sent to a training class. The class proved to them that no one is more efficient multi-tasking than performing tasks in a single-threaded fashion. This has been demonstrated over and over again in many studies since.

Yet multitasking is only increasing. We wonder aloud how we got to a place where multitasking on a smartphone has now become part of our basic social interactions. Remember when it was considered the epitome of rudeness to have a cell phone in a restaurant?

For me, multi-tasking socialization started in the work place where I often carried on multiple instant message conversations, worked on an email response, and “listened” to a conference call all at the same time.

But the behavior has carried over to my personal life in rather frightening ways. A laptop, iPhone, or iPad is always handy and my face is often pointed at one of them–my attention hopping from messages, emails, posts and often forgetting completely why I picked up a “device” in the first place.

One of the things I have said I love about photography is that it is a form of meditation. I set aside my distracting devices and focus my attention as well as my lens. When I look through the viewfinder, even more distractions are removed, limiting the view of the world to just the portion I include in my frame. The mind quiets, the chatter stops, texts go unanswered. For those moments, there is only me observing something fascinating and working to capture it.

But how to carry this focused attention over to personal relationships?

I tried an accidental experiment this weekend. I put my phone on the sleep setting, meaning it would not notify me with events from the virtual world. Then, I spent some time with my spouse. Friday night, we even went to dinner without our phones. It was a scary moment, but we managed to entertain ourselves by talking to each other.

What was interesting was how awkward it felt to know we were going to have a conversation with no access to Google. No photos to look at. No funny posts on Facebook to share. Just us talking off the tops of our heads like the internet didn’t exist. But at the end of the evening, we felt like we’d actually spent time together vs spent time in the same room.

That said, I am not about to get rid of the technology in my life. But it begs the question: if technology has contributed to new detrimental behaviors negatively impacting my relationships, productivity, and enjoyment of life, how does one extract the baby from the bathwater? It is possible to use the power of technology only for good?

Mirror, Mirror

Sometimes an abrupt shift in how you see yourself occurs. Things you believed about yourself turn out to be unfounded. As my statistics professor repeated enough times that I cannot forget even 25 years later: “correlation is not causation.”

Just because we behave a certain way on a regular basis doesn’t mean this behavior is driven by our personality, character, core values, or anything that is uniquely “us”. Rather, our behavior may be driven by the particular set of variables in play at a given time that make it easy or rewarding to behave the way we behave.

This is a hopeful message for anyone who thinks people can’t change. It’s actually quite easy to change behavior. The most direct example of this I have is from working with sales people–I always knew when their compensation plan changed because they instantly behaved differently.

We are, it turns out, so easily and frequently influenced in what we do, what we believe, and even how we feel that it’s impossible to tease apart what is our “true self” and what is one of humanity’s most basic survival skills: fitting in.

Realistically, we cannot know what is part of our “core” self vs social influence until the moment we are tested–the moment we are called upon to make a choice.

These moments usually go completely unnoticed. There is no sound track with dramatic music telling us this is a pivotal moment in our lives. Often, there is not so much as an intake of breath before we go forward and do or don’t do without deciding.

Defaulting gives social influence amazing power. It’s also incredibly efficient–imagine if we consciously examined every choice we could possibly make each day and pondered all the possibilities? It would be hard to get beyond brushing our teeth in a 24 hour period.

But every once in a while, many variables in our lives shift. In this shift, a void appears. This void is either not knowing what is expected of us or suddenly having cause to reject what we feel is expected of us (such as when a loved one dies and we find ourselves wondering if what we have been doing with our lives is worth it).

These are the moments when social convention comes in handy. It gives us a framework to either fit within or to rebel against. The trick is figuring out what the rules are. And when there is no one to influence you, to find that influence.

This is, perhaps, the most surprising thing of all for me. I have seen myself as an independent thinker. A creative spirit. Someone “different.” The mirror my life is holding up right now forces me to realize that my independence, creativity, and different-ness are merely a rouse.

Without the boundaries of social expectations, there are too many choices. The greatest irony? These expectations were the product of my own imagination–this should be an easy problem to solve.

Is it Sunday?

I am suffering from an interesting phenomenon. I don’t know if it has a name. It’s the inability to keep track of the days of the week. This has led to a second phenomenon: posting my Sunday blog posts late.

Seeking to get myself back on a slightly more planned schedule, I spent some time contemplating why keeping track of the days seems so difficult. Let’s review . . .

Until 3 months ago, I was working long weeks for a large corporation. Monday-Friday, my alarm went off, I picked up my iPhone and checked my email and calendar. I answered any urgent emails from parts of the world that would be leaving work soon and then checked my calendar again to see 1) what time I needed to be ready for my first conference call, and 2) if I had any open time during the day to get anything done or if there were any conference calls I could skip to make time. Then I got ready to start my day.

Saturday and Sunday were days I didn’t set my alarm, didn’t have any conference calls (usually), and could catch up a bit on work I didn’t have time to do during the week as well as fit in some fun time.

That has a pretty definitive rhythm. It forces you to know what day of the week it is because you’re always working against deadlines and constantly looking at your calendar trying to find time to work and/or meet with people.

In comparison, I have not been setting my alarm most days unless I really think I’m going to oversleep. Generally, I wake up an hour earlier than I would set my alarm for anyway, so it hasn’t been an issue.

I have started trying to use my calendar because I do have appointments from time to time–or at least social engagements. But rather than actually looking at my calendar and figuring out what my day looks like, I am ignoring my calendar until a notification pops up reminding me that I have to do something. This does not require knowing what day it is.

There is little motivation to actually know what day it is. First, the only time it’s inconvenient is if you, for example, go to a store on a Sunday that isn’t open on Sundays. This hasn’t happened to me yet. Second, it’s depressing to realize x more days have gone by and you still haven’t gotten the things done you meant to get done, so why remind yourself by constantly knowing what day of the week it is? Finally, knowing what day of the week it is would mean having no excuse for the appointments I have missed when I didn’t get them added to my calendar.

Not knowing what day it is has not deterred my photography any, either. In fact, it may contribute to me shooting more because I am more apt to lose track of time altogether.