Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Is being connected the same as being engaged?

Today, thanks to a spot of car trouble I found myself making a rare journey on the local village bus. The trip would take around 25 minutes, so I thought great I can get a head start on my email, post a few Tweets and generally take advantage of not driving to the office. Five minutes in to the journey I looked up from my iPhone and noticed something very odd. I was the only person using a mobile device. What was stranger still was the fact that everyone was talking to each other!

It may be a generational thing, as most of my co-passengers were of a certain age (although these are surely the sliver surfers we hear about), but it also made me realise that whilst I would not be without a tablet, smartphone and laptop there is an awful lot to be said about switching these things off (or at least silent) from time to time, taking in the scenery and having a good old conversation.

The technology we have today is supposed to make us more connected and whilst I busily fired off emails around the world from my seat, this was certainly the case. Yet, as a professional in the world of communications it did make me stop and evaluate whether being more connected is the same as being engaged.  The conclusion I arrived at, as I made the short stroll to the office, is yes and no. It is all about the context.

Undoubtedly, technology connects me and makes me more engaged with people with whom I able see rarely, due to the long distances that separate us. Without it I would revert back to writing letters, remember them? However, I cannot say that I am fully engaged with everyone I am connected with on my ‘social’ channels, I broadcast to them through status updates and they reciprocate. Yes, some of those people on the bus may have been exchanging pleasantries but in their short journey they were also bonding in way you cannot replicate electronically.

What strikes me is that for many of us we have become so fixated with our digital lives that we instantly assume that this will be far more interesting and rewarding than speaking to the people who are there with us in the moment. Be honest, how many of you have walked in to a pub, restaurant or a meeting and placed your phone on the table in front of you. I know I have.

So, with this in mind I am making a belated New Year Resolution to walk over to the other side of the office and ask a question rather than email (lazy I know, but we all do it!). I will think about making a short call instead of beginning an endless string of text messages when I am planning a night out,  and when I am in a meeting I will try to leave the phone in my bag.

Technology is fantastic and I wouldn't be without it, but I do worry that there is a danger, that the interpersonal skills we have developed over generations will be suppressed if we don’t use them more often. 

I wonder if my bus journey home this evening will be so thought provoking?
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