Disconnected

So the unthinkable happened.

I was in a cab last Thursday talking on my BlackBerry and hoping to catch my flight home to Boston. As I approached the airport, I got off the phone and prepared to make the usual dash to catch my flight. "Ahhhh", I remember feeling. I made it just as they shut the doors. As I settled into my seat, I heard the safety announcement informing all passengers to turn off their electrical devices. I reached into my briefcase to turn off my BlackBerry and IT WASN'T THERE!

Instantly I had this bad, sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I actually started to sweat as I thought of all the calls I needed to make on my drive time later that evening and the next day. At that point, I realized I was in a state of panic because I was disconnected.

This loss comes at an interesting time. I recently read an article in The New York Times, called Tethered: It Don’t Mean a Thing If You Ain't Got That Ping, by Matt Richtel, about the psychology of people who use BlackBerrys and what the compulsive usage of this device may mean. In the article, Dr. John Ratey likens BlackBerry use to that of a drug. He suggests that we may all become addicts, if we don't get our fix. Without the constant back and forth of information, we become bored and constantly reach for the BlackBerry to fulfill that fix.

Yikes!

I also just met with a client who announced that he was diagnosed with what his doctor describes, as "BlackBerry thumb". This is apparently a new condition where you wear out the joints and tendons in your thumbs by using your BlackBerry too much.

Was I being sent a message? Losing my BlackBerry, my connection to the world, on the heels of these two events?

Once I landed in Boston, I got in my car and an interesting thing occurred. I didn't know what to do! I am so used to driving, answering e-mails, and talking on my phone - all at once - that I realized I was physically uncomfortable without having an outlet to do all of this.

Then came the shift.

As I was driving, I realized I was thinking about stuff, stuff I hadn't thought about for quite some time: problem-solving issues that I hadn't gotten to yet; brainstorming new ideas for a speech I would be giving soon; listening to the radio and humming no less! Could this disconnection really be an asset? I was having a shift from what I was doing to how I was being, something I talk about all the time with people. Less doing and more being, changes the world, or at least your world.

Day 5 of being disconnected and what have I learned?

I do not need to talk to everyone. In fact, some people do better when I am not talking to them. They solve problems themselves. They are less dependent on me. They even feel as though I trust them more.

Being less available is better for business. (Just in case you had trouble reading that last sentence, I will write it again.) Being less available is better for business. When people can get you, anytime, day or night, you enable this dependency on instantaneous communication to continue. Is that what you really want. For that matter, is that what I want? After all, it eats up time, making a person less available for new opportunities.

During this experience, I had lots more uninterrupted time, making me more productive. I watched my son's entire soccer and baseball games without ever having to leave to answer a call or check e-mail. I paid attention in meetings and noticed how rude others were checking their BlackBerry while someone was presenting. (That was me the week before.) I spent an evening with friends this past weekend and had nothing to handle or distract me from the outside world. I was totally present with my family and friends. I was able to be in the moment.

And guess what other revelation I had? The world did not end. In fact, my being disconnected had little impact on anyone else. Funny, I thought I was more important than that. Now I see that was my own conversation.

What can you learn?

I would suggest you ask yourself two questions.

1) Do I need to have my cell phone, and/or BlackBerry with me at all times?
2) Are any of my primary relationships suffering from my focus on my BlackBerry or cell phone?

If the answer to these questions is honestly no, then so be it. Move on as always. If the answer is yes to either one or both, then I strongly suggest you disconnect and see what happens. You could shift your business and your relationships positively from a dose of disconnectedness.

If you know someone who would answer yes to either of these questions print out this article and give it to them.

If you are pretending it is not you, ask someone you trust to tell you the truth. Have you become a BlackBerry addict?

One last thought:

The end of the story is that a very kind gentleman found my BlackBerry in the street. I apparently dropped it out of my bag while exiting the taxi. It is in a Fed Ex truck as we speak and should arrive back sometime today. I am hoping to hold on to my lessons learned. I will keep you posted; of course, I will not send that message from my BlackBerry.

Grace Andrews • Executive Coach/Corporate Healer • President, Training By Design • Boston, MA • gandrews@training-by-design.com • www.training-by-design.com

Add New Comment

3 Comments

  • Gary Walter

    Grace, I appreciate you sharing your experience w/o your Blackberry. I am currently in the middle of a 5 week vacation with my family. We are attempting to wrestle balance back into our lives and are traveling the west in a truck and 5th-wheel RV travel trailer. Tonight is the first time I've been "connected" in about a week and a half (Thanks to free wi-fi at the KOA in Eureka, CA).

    Two and a half years ago when my wife was pregnant with our first child, we noticed that her cognition and mental quickness had diminished. It was decided, after strong urging from me, that she not use the cell phone while driving. To be fair, I made the same decision for myself.

    I realized that phone calls could wait and my mind also found new time to think, process, and just be. It has been good.

    And lest you judge me for getting my "fix" tonight, I will confess, I am checking up on my secretary, staff, and all the stuff that is going on without me. But, I'm not replying to work emails and I'm very selective about the ones I read and/or reply to in my personal account. Mainly, I'm updating my blog, journaling, and checking the weather.

    Despite it's drawbacks, the Internet is still a great tool, but I won't allow myself to be "tethered." Which is why I've not turned on the push e-mail on my PDA/phone.

    Thanks again for sharing - you are right on track!

  • Lonny Paul

    A little over a year ago I also took an unplugged few days - and it truly was refreshing. Sure, couldn't ditch my cellphone, but not carrying a net-connected device was something new I hadn't done in many years.

    And I survived!

  • Matt

    I have a simple solution to unplug: hammock plus ear plugs plus night sky = refreshed and chilled out.

    Everyone should remember to unplug at least an hour a day. Most people don't feel comfortable with silence because it leaves them to their own thoughts and most people don't like that.

    And, though I have the same/similar pressures as everyone reading this comment (running a company, being a spouse, parent, volunteer, etc.), I have always made time for chillin'. It's the time that I look forward to most.