Do You Know Where Your Off Switch Is? (Energy)

Having been engaged to deliver an after dinner keynote, I share the evening meal with the coordinators of the Staff Retreat. The table is set – rolls, salads, water, china and cutlery. And at each place, resting right next to the dessert, a Blackberry (not the edible kind), placed with loving care by the occupant of the chair. The meal proceeds. Nibble on the salad, check the Blackberries. Sip the soup, check the Blackberries. And so it goes from course to course, bits and bytes between the bits and bites.

I’ve just delivered a morning presentation at another Staff Retreat, and shared a delightful lunch with the organizers. As I return from the buffet table, dessert in hand, I seat myself and look up to find the tops of four heads pointed my way. My lunch companions simultaneously engage in the Blackberry Prayer – scrolling and typing under the table.

In a full day seminar on leadership development, despite requests to unplug the technology, two of the participants persist in Blackberry distraction. When the conversation involves them directly, they raise their heads and make eye contact. As soon as the discussion moves elsewhere in the room, they check out and click in to the technology. At the first break, they announce they’re desperately needed elsewhere and that they’ll attempt to reschedule their professional development for another time.

At yet another conference, I’m chatting during the break with one of the participants. His Blackberry is holstered at his waist, set to vibrate. Each time it gives him a buzz, he lifts it from its cradle, looks briefly to see who’s calling, and pops it back in the holster. While he checks, I’m suspended in conversational limbo. Will I continue to be more important than the callers, or will I lose this round to some one or something else of clearly greater value?

I’m betting that you, too, have stories to tell about your own brushes with the techno tools of the 21st century. You know it’s a widespread problem when resorts and hotels start offering ‘Tech Detox’ services. They will lock up your iphones, blackberries and laptops for the duration of your stay, forcing you to disconnect. That’s a sure sign that far too many of us are taking the techno obsession to unhealthy lengths, and that some of us wish it were different.

The primary risks are twofold: straining our relationships with those who are physically present and presumably important in our lives, and becoming ever more distanced from our own thoughts and feelings. We may be totally connected to someone, somewhere, but we’re essentially lost to the here and now.

When it comes to techno tools, and being constantly accessible to the whims of the whole wide world (that’s www, for short) there are points to ponder, questions to answer, and actions to take.

Points To Ponder:

  • When we allow ourselves to be governed solely by the pulse of technology, we embrace speed at the expense of thoughtfulness.
  • Each of us is nowhere near as indispensable as we might imagine ourselves to be.
  • Every piece of technology has an off switch. It won’t wear out from overuse.
  • Blackberries don’t have feelings. However, our misuse of them places our connections with the people who are in front of us at risk. Human relationships do wear out from disregard and lack of care.

Questions To Answer:

  • If you are continuously responding and reacting prompted by the messages and agendas of others, when do you give yourself permission to be strategic – initiating and innovating?
  • If excessive value is assigned to instant access and immediate response, how will you find the time to think more deeply about essential issues?
  • If you are constantly available to those at a distance, when will you be present to those who are right in front of you now?
  • If you are always absorbed in the messaging, how can you hope to tune in to your own thoughts that surface, feelings that arise, and insights that appear?

Actions To Take:

  • Watch the non-verbals and listen for the unspoken reactions to your everyday techno decisions. Invite others to tell you how they experience the choices you are making.
  • Stop using blackberries and their clones during meetings, dinners and social times.
  • Set a 24 hour response target for emails – not 24 seconds or 24 minutes. Cut yourself and others some slack and grace.
  • Give yourself a break; and do the rest of us a favor. Tap into the courage to unplug. Find the off switch. Use it.

“For a list of all the ways technology has failed to improve the quality of life, please press three.” – Alice Kahn

© Patricia Katz, MCE CHRP, is a Canadian speaker and author who helps the overloaded and overwhelmed to get things done and have a life, too. Sign up for Pat’s free weekly e-zine, Pause, and learn more about easing your load at Contact Pat for programs and publications at or 877-728-5289.