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Why can’t you break away?

October 16, 2011

One of my favourite pastimes is observing people. I do this on the streets, at train stations and bus stops and even while waiting in line at the grocery store. It does sound kind of quirky, I admit. On the other hand however, you do learn a lot about communication and the human species just by taking a closer look at the people around you.

Not so funny how we don’t talk anymore

Today’s connectivity spurs a general need to be ‘hooked up’ 24/7. And lately, I’ve noticed particularly young fathers out and about on ‘daddy-time’; totally absorbed in their smartphones and totally oblivious of their toddlers. Notable was this one father, who let go of his daughter’s hand to attend to his phone. Completely ignoring her as she energetically skipped around the corner. Out of his sight and out of his reach.

We seriously need to disconnect.
We seriously need to learn to pull out the plug.

I’ve raised this issue a few times on Twitter and someone rightly pointed out to me, as obnoxious as this might be, it’s not the gadget; it’s the person handling it. Which brings up the question, if it’s the person, not the tool; don’t we seriously need to learn when and how to ‘pull out the plug’?

How to (dis)connect to connect

At the beginning of this month, there was a worldwide appeal to disconnect. Among others, the following video clip was virally spread.

Without a doubt, the 21st century (wo)man is swamped with social network updates, messages and breaking news. The Day to Disconnect is just one of the many countermovements to this infomania. The only problem is, will it help you stop time and life trickling through your fingers or do you need more?

For those of you who need more; the following 4-step strategy might help you get a grip:

#1. (Re)Define Friendship. With the success of social networks like Facebook, the definition of friendship has become quite blurred. According to Aristotle, to have meaningful friendship, friends need to spend time with each other spread out over a lifetime. Aristotle had a very effective tripod in distinguishing true friendship:

  1. Occasional friends. These are friends you share duties with; like the friends at work. This is a temporary friendship. When either one of you move on to another position; the friendship dissolves.
  2. Pleasure Friends. Then you’ve got the friends with whom you share a common pleasure. This can be sports or any other hobby. Again the friendship depends on what’s shared. When this ceases; the friendship will too.
  3. Excellent friends. The third kind of friendship according to Aristotle, are the ‘friendships of excellence’. Here is when you love someone for themselves; despite their faults. This friendship depends on nothing else than the characters themselves.

Now that we’ve got the friendship part down, let’s move on to the second step.

#2. Concentric circles. Bernie Michalik wrote a post worth reading on the circle of friends: The Medium Isn’t The Message, People Are. To manage the communications overload, Michalik advises to figure out who’s valuable to you and who’s not. According to him, focussing becomes a whole lot easier when you divide everyone you connect with into 4 spheres:

  1. Core people. This is always a very short list and includes your loved ones, like your partner and children.
  2. Important people. These are your family and close friends. People you might tend to overlook; because they always seem to be there for you.
  3. People who make life interesting. The third sphere contains contacts you’re not dependent on; yet they somehow provide meaning to your life.
  4. Nice to have but not necessary people. The last sphere holds those whom you now and again enjoy spending time with. The time spent here should never ever outdo the one with your core people.

The idea of the concentric circles may seem pretty obvious; but don’t let that fool you. Determining who populates which circle is in fact harder than you think. Just be strict and brutally honest with yourself.

#3. Sieve and make sense. We generally assume that the more information we consume, the better. Yet this is seldom the case as anyone can post anything online. So there’s a lot of value added information out there, along with a lot of noise. And it’s critical to sieve the information in order to make sense of it all. A simple rule of thumb is: Who you connect with; What information you connect to and How Much of this information do you really need.

#4. Plan and Unplug. The internet can be a very demanding and disruptive force. If it interrupts your day-to-day routine and you can’t seem to make time to do anything else; then it’s probably high time to plan and unplug. Schedule quality time for the ones you love; and while you’re at it, free up some time for yourself too. Then unplug.

Turn it off

Last week the Black Berry network crashed. Amazingly, this was primetime news for 4 days in a row. And watching the reports, you’d think the whole world had come to a screeching halt. But was the crash really the communications catastrophe the news made it out to be or was it —in hindsight— a little blessing in disguise?

Next time you’re out on some daddy-time with your child; a lunch date with your best friend or an anniversary dinner with your partner; focus on the person you’re with. Turn off your connection. They’re worth it. You’re worth it.

(Source image used: Kenny Stoltz)

If you like this post, I’d really appreciate it if you’d share it with anyone you believe might like it too. Thank you! And if you’d like to share your thoughts on it, don’t hesitate to comment below. Please, do visit again or just sign up to Ivichie Says and be notified by email of any new posts.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. January 23, 2012 22:05

    i liked this. reading it so late after it was written it still makes sense; we need to fight that info-addiction.
    what i thought most timely are your remarks on filtering. for me this year it’s imperative to curate everything; there’s simply too much good stuff “out there” today to consume/enjoy it all. choices must be made.


    • January 24, 2012 01:53

      Yes. Choices must definitely be made. And concerning ‘all the good stuff out there’; that’s quite relative. What might seem important (information) today, may not be so important tomorrow. What will always matter though, is the connection you have to those closest and dearest to you. You should acknowledge the value of ‘that good stuff’, cultivate and cherish it. And what better way to start than to unplug and really connect? 🙂


  2. December 1, 2011 11:50

    I think sometimes the world, particularly the media, is a little harsh on social technologies. “Connecting” with someone through Facebook, SMS, or Twitter, is just as valuable to me as “connecting” through conversation – it’s just a means to hold a conversation.

    Social technologies are perhaps problematic if they are impacting on life essential behaviours – like going to work. Or if they lead to physical problems, like RSI.

    The media seems to think social technology is bad, full stop. And the media seems to disregard the genuine relationships people can have through technology. Technology use isn’t innately bad.


    • December 1, 2011 12:14

      Dear Tegan,
      I fully agree with you: the use of technology isn’t innately bad. It’s only when we start to miscommunicate with those around us, we make it a bad thing. That’s why I truly believe we should always be aware of how we use the technology: to connect or to disconnect.
      Greetings, Evita


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