THE BLOG
07/31/2013 10:47 am ET | Updated Sep 30, 2013

Blur is the Enemy of a Well-Lived Life

In the northern hemisphere, it is summer, which means a time of vacations, getting together with friends, and taking a little time off. But are you really taking any time off? There's a time to plug in to technology and a time to unplug. Are you unplugging on your down time?

In fact, are any of us ever unplugged? It wasn't that long ago that people left their laptops behind when they went out for dinner or to visit friends. But today we have our computers with us 24/7 in the form of smart phones and tablets.

No one can deny that today's technology is fun. It's loaded with eye candy, which is an addiction. It's loaded with social media, which is an addiction. It's loaded with text messaging, which is an addiction. It's loaded with incoming calls, maybe even incoming video calls, which is an addiction.

I say "addiction" because people do indeed get addicted to these things. There are many times when we know we shouldn't answer, but we do. We know we shouldn't reply, but we do. We know we shouldn't check status updates, but we do. It's almost like the priority is not what we're doing or who we're currently with. The priority is whatever's happening through the device.

Of course, deep down, we know that's not true. But is our behavior reflecting it?

A friend of mind was looking forward to a driving vacation with his wife and kids. His children are getting older, and he knows that his window for taking a driving vacation with them is going to close fairly quickly. So he recently got them all together to drive across the country.

After he returned I asked him how his trip went. He said, "It was a good trip. We didn't talk much though." I asked how that was possible since they were all in the car together for days on end. He explained, "We all had our various music devices with us, primarily our smart phones and iPods, so we were all listening to our own personalized music list the whole time."

How interesting. They had an opportunity to have a family conversation, to reconnect on a personal level, and even to play some driving games, but they didn't. It's almost like they took separate vacations; they just happened to do it together.

Here's another interesting example. I have a friend whom I've known for many years. I hadn't seen him in a long time and he suggested that we make plans to get together. When we met for lunch, every time his phone rang, he answered it and had a conversation. Every time a text came in, he stopped our talk and replied to the text. Even though we were having meaningful discussions, he let technology interrupt. I don't know if he realized it, but I was feeling like he didn't value our time together as I had thought.

After he finished a few calls, I asked him who he was talking to. And of course, those calls were not urgent, in his mind or in mine. Yet he gave them more importance than he did our lunch meeting.

A few months later I saw him again. And the same scenario occurred. So what happened for me? I decided not to see him much anymore, because I realized that even though he said it was great to see me and he was looking forward to our lunches, the reality was his behavior showed that wasn't the case.

Here's the point to my story: Do you understand the actions you take and what they're saying to other people? It's time we all start thinking about that, both in our business meetings and our personal lives.

Additionally, we need to educate our kids because they often think, "Hey, we're kids. We can do this stuff. We can let our devices dominate our life. All the other kids do it." But we need to help young people understand that if you are really interested in a person, if you are engaged in something together, then you shouldn't let technology constantly distract you. And if your number one priority is always your phone, then you need to realize that you are sending a clear message to the people you are with--that you're not all that interested in them or what they're saying.

We need to be modeling and teaching these kinds of things to the young and old alike. So let's get real about when it's appropriate to plug in and when it's time to unplug. Otherwise, our life is just a blur that is constantly driven by our machines and our tools.

In my old age I want a widely-diversified portfolio of unforgettable memories. The only way to gain those memories is to actively create them, and that means unplugging every now and then and giving attention to the right things at the right times.