Why you should get off your iPads and Kindles and make some time for reflection
At the time of writing, I’m sitting in Heathrow waiting to board a flight to Edinburgh. Around me are fifty or so fellow passengers, separated into various ‘groups’. The men outnumber the women about 60% to 40%. A much more dominant numerical majority are dressed in suits and other business wear, with a small (but perhaps slightly subversive-looking) group in casual clothes. Around 90% are sitting, but a very impatient subset of the ‘suits group’ is standing, no doubt waiting for boarding to start, anticipating the opportunity to get a head start on the queue and deploy gold cards. Interestingly, as soon as there is an announcement, this group flinches slightly – like watching a group of middle-aged, smartly attired sprinters, waiting for the starting gun in the Olympic final.
The one shared trait that unites every single one of my fellow passengers however is that they are all staring at an electronic device or plugged into one via headphones. Phones, laptops, tablets, e-readers, music devices. There isn’t a single hand which is not holding or feverishly tapping away at the apparatus. It is a feast of immersion in information and entertainment that would look as alien and far-fetched to someone from 30 years ago as a Star Trek movie looks to us now (apart from we all have tricorders).
As I sit and take this in, two things dawn on me:
1. Firstly, this scene is not only happening here – it is no doubt replicated at every departure gate in the developed world at this moment. And it is not just happening now; it seems to be a common occurrence over the last few years across a range of occasions where strangers are gathered together with a shared need to wait for an event to begin or end – whether it be waiting for a flight, on my commute into the office, or waiting at the doctors.
2. The other thing that dawns on me is that, unless everyone else is staggeringly good at multi-tasking, not one of these people is thinking except for bathing in digital data in some form or another. Granted, some of them are doing things. A lot of thumbs move for example as emails are transmitted, maybe to others in departure gates elsewhere around the world. But nobody is stopping to take a moment to take it all in; to look at their surroundings; to consider what is good and what is less so, what is important and what isn’t, be it in their lives, their jobs, or even their inbox. They are reacting, immersing themselves in digital data, blinded by self-imposed blinkers of sensory tunnel vision focused exclusively on their own device screen.
Why does it matter, you might ask? Why not make the most of the unbelievably rich variety of media and information available to us now? Why not feast on the cornucopia of digital entertainment?
Or perhaps to put it another way, what benefit could a half an hour’s thought have over watching YouTube videos or re-runs of classic TV shows? What insight could be gained from a little reflection time, rather than just googling the answer?
I might just save the answer to that for next month to give you some thinking time!
Graeme is a director at global management consultancy, Hay Group, specialising in leadership and talent management. He is a passionate advocate for the role leaders can (and should) play in business and society, and likes to spend his spare time socialising, cycling, and thinking.
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