Notifications got us like Pavlov’s dog

I’m fortunate to be on vacation. I’m airborne to a tropical play land that represents my happy place. I went to my happy place over the summer too. And I did something for the first time for myself on that trip. I’m conscious having not done this until this point of my life could paint me in a ‘follower’ light – but I don’t think I am the only one. I suspect you too are in my camp. Here is what I did:

I turned off notifications. Not some of them, all of them. And I deleted Outlook from my phone and tablet. And when I got back from that vacation, I left my Outlook notifications off and drastically reduced notifications across the board.

And guess what? The world didn’t end. My work didn’t suffer. And most importantly, I felt more in control.

I had begun managing my devices, rather than my devices managing me.

I sit on this plane about to do it again, with an air of relief. And the twitching has already begun it’s decline …

It’s a nice anecdote for conference calls when I get back. I’ll mention it to colleagues when we go out for a beer or catch up over lunch. They will applaud my action and likely say ‘I wish I could do that.’

But it’s a entree into a larger issue. A very personal one. An issue that the rise of our attention to meditation and being present shine a light on, often inadvertently.

Our devices control us, we don’t control our devices.

Like many of us, I spent the holidays with family and friends. I sat in living rooms with fires roaring and booze flowing, reminiscing and recapping the year. And devices were a bit part of that experience. Screens were called on to help tell stories, show experiences and bring moments past, to the present for those who were not there. It’s incredible to see pictures, video, hear audio and read messages in real time. Devices and their access can bring us closer from a distance, even if that distance is only from the couch to the recliner.

But something else happened in those moments. It happened nearly every moment in fact. And it isn’t something isolated to the family gathering or lulls in conversation. It’s happening at dinner tables, in board rooms, on conference calls and at meetings. Devices are telling us to pay attention, when our attention is better spent elsewhere.

If there was an emergency of some kind I would have been validated in whipping out my phone while my grandmother was telling me a story about her childhood, but there was no emergency; someone had liked my snarky Instagram post.

Had my wife needed to get ahold of me urgently (we divided and conquered this year) I would have reason to activate my home screen to see what was happening, but she didn’t need to; United Airlines was telling me to check into my flight.

At one point I put my phone on ‘do not disturb’ knowing my wife could get through should she need to, I had become fed up with myself.

And perhaps it is easy to agree to the intrusiveness that our devices offer in these special moments of celebration and gathering. But we also need to recognize the intrusiveness they command in our every day lives. Why is that alert more important than looking at the scenery out the car window? Why is the content of my life, the things in front of me in real time being relegated to second class content behind what others are pushing at me.

Isn’t my decision to ‘pull content’ in greater alignment with personal freedom and choice than it being forced on me by others?

Don’t I have stronger connections with those people who listen, converse, and share with me in real time than whomever, on whichever channel they chose to push content at me?

We’re losing control, becoming slaves to our things and pushed content. Our expectations of others are unfair, expecting near real time responses from our friends, family and colleagues often when it is unreasonable. Becoming frustrated when the actions of others don’t align to the priorities we currently hold. Or maybe, it’s just me.

I am not harkening back to days of yesteryear. I have no desire for June and Ward Cleaver. I like the pace of business, information, news, progress and evolution. I thrive on it, perhaps like you do.

But consciousness, common sense and respect seems to be deteriorating in personal and professional arenas.

I’ve turned off all my notifications. I’ve removed outlook from my phone and tablet. I’m going to unplug and do for myself what we all should allow ourselves to do.

Hauʻoli makahiki hou