Monday, December 9, 2013

Turning Off the Smartphone

I recently sat at a Board of Directors meeting.  This particular meeting was held in the home of one of the Directors.  The host and his wife honored the team with a lavish holiday meal while the group worked through the business of the Board.  It's a relationship-oreitned group, rooted in the ministry of the Gospel.  It's also a group of leaders and decision makers who are looking daily at high-level organizational strategy and plotting the appropriate course.  I enjoy the balance, a fovused attention to the business functions of the organization while circling everything back to its reational core.

I'd consider myself mindful of meeting etiquette.  My phone is always on vibrate.  I rarely take a call in a meeting, whether it be a meeting with only one indidual or one with a more formal larger group.  However, I do keep my phone on and available as I'll often need to check my calendar, research a particular topic that's brought up in the meeting, or - admittedly - to occasionally check the score of the game.  Overall, I'd say that others consider me respectful with my smartphone use in these types of settings.

During the holiday meeting, my phone vibrated multiple times with text messages.  Each time, I glanced at the status bar to get a quick summary of the message.  None were emergencies. Some were important. All could have waited for my response at a later time.  I quickly answered maybe four or five of the messages with a simple response.  For a few, I received a follow up response saying that they were sorry to interrupt the meeting and that they'd connect with me later.  I don't believe that the texts were intrusive to the meeting, although each text did capture my attention for a moment.

The meetings are quarterly, so when a meeting does occur much content is covered and it can be quite lengthy.  This meeting was coming to a close at just beyond three hours.  As folks began closing their file folders and placing their paperwork back into their work bags, I noticed something.  Throughout the course of the entire meeting, I had not noticed a single person checking their phone.  In fact, I couldn't remember even seeing anyone with their phones in view.  The leader of the meeting did have his phone available, however he noticalbly restricted checking the text message only during a  break in the meeting when he wondered out loud whether something was urgent because his phone had been buzzing with texts.  Yet, he waited until the break to check it.  There was another gentleman who did take a call.  When he removed himself from the meeting, he not only stepped out of the room, he left the house.  And, at the end of the meeting, he met the facilitator with a handshake and an apology for taking a call during the discussion.  In short, there was a very intentional effort by all involved to be completely present, wholly available, and fully respectful with the group. 

Our attention and, in turn, our full presence to any given situation is a finite resource.  We only have so much to give.  And, science shows that the more multi-tasking that we do, the less focused and effective we become at each thing.  While it's viable to participate in a meeting, check text messages, and jot down our to do lists;  it's not ideal, effecient, or very effective.  And, just as it's possible to answer emails while also waking up to the weekend routines of our families, it's not fair. 

While the advantages and convenicnecs of smartphones and other technology are significant, we must also hold tightly to maintaining margin away from them.  I've realized that while a brief update from my phone may not directly interrupt family time, it does - despite my best efforts - effect my moods, if only subtly.  I've embraced a few practices to guard against this including turning my phone and other technology completely off for at least 24 hours during a family vacation and starting my daily routine with quiet time before God prior to jolting my brain with information delivered via my phone. 

Lance Morrow, columnist, says, "The telephone is one of those miracles one can discuss in terms either sacred or profane.  No one has yet devised a pleasant way for a telephone to come to life. The ring is a sudden intrusion, a drill in the ear.. The satanic bleats from some new phones are the equivalent of lasers.  But the ring cannot be subtle.  It's mission is disruption... The telephone call is a breaking-and-entering that we invite by having telephones in the first place.  Someone unbidden barges in and for an instant or an hour usurps the ears and upsets the mind's prior arrangements."  (A Minute of Margin, Richard Swenson). 

I started writing this post on vacation, pre-dawn, and as I finish as my family wakes.  My boys and my wife arise eager for a new day and for my full attention.  I'll close the computer, turn off the phone, and welcome the day with them - those I love, fully deserving of every ounce of presence I can offer.  And to my collegues at the recent Board meeting, I apologize for the moments of attention that I offered elsewhere, after committing them to you.  The updates from my phone (even the score of the big game) are never worth the attention given them; certainly never to be elevated above the opportuninty to be fully present with another.

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