Not long ago, I was walking along a corridor in the facility where I go several times a week to put my aging body through regular physical workouts. I passed by a gathering of four young teens huddled in close proximity to each other on two couches in a small alcove off to the side. It was a perfect setting for conversation and gossiping; the sharing of thoughts and feelings about things and other people preferably not present.
However, nobody exchanged a word. Nor were any of these young men and women making eye contact with each other. Their heads bowed, their eyes remained fixated on shining, bright little screens, snuggled tightly in each of their folded hands. Was I fortunate or unfortunate, I thought as I passed that scene, that I had to audibly converse with others when I was their age?
I am certain this scene involving we moderns of any age, is all too familiar to many of you reading this; a scene you can find on any street corner, in any shopping mall, or on any airplane, subway, streetcar or bus.
In his book “SISOMO: The Future On Screen”, Kevin Roberts CEO of the global advertising and idea firm Saatchi & Saatchi, explores the almost unlimited potential of SISOMO — sight, sound and motion conveyed on screens — to stir our emotions and shape almost every aspect of our lives. When I first read this book in 2006, it fascinated and intrigued me. Today all I can say is how prophetic Mr. Roberts was.
Now I am as addicted to the various screens in my life as the next person. I check my email many times a day, get most of my news on-line, read books on a tablet, stream entertainment with my wife in the evenings, shop primarily via the internet, bank and pay bills electronically, pay some retail charges with my phone, turn my phone’s sound off but not the vibration in the concert hall, and yes usually have a glance when the appropriate ring tone tells me I have a message.
I am happy to live in the electronic, digital age. But I have a nagging, uneasy relationship will all my screens and occasionally wonder just who is in control. And I am certainly not alone in having these thoughts and sending them to your screens.
For all the specific skills any of us must have to do our jobs — to say nothing for successfully parenting our children — the essential core competency and requirement for success is our ability to undertake sound ANALYTIC THINKING. Specifically, our ability to calmly analyze situations and information, identify patterns and precedents and draw conclusions regarding appropriate actions and coping strategies.
Sound analytic thinking and decision-making is mental activity best facilitated by calm, distraction-free contemplation. It requires concentration, which in turn is generally best accomplished during relaxation — downtime — where we are not multi-tasking our way through the day, answering our emails, tending to Facebook, watching television, or texting and tweeting our current random thoughts.
The trouble with all those screens around us is precisely that they are addicting, distracting, mind-consuming, and contemplation prohibitive. They quietly consume our time and attention. They have a way of domesticating us, of controlling us even though we believe it is we who are in control.
So my cautionary note is simple, make certain who is in control. Time for sound thinking and reflection is a choice. When it is time to really think and assess an important decision at hand, choose to carve out the mental privacy and space required. Those screens will still be there when done and will never scold you for having ignored them for a while..