Photo by marin. Published on 19 November 2012 Stock photo - Image ID: 100115867

Photo by Marin.

I was driving home to Austin from Granbury, where I had just dropped off my dad after a day at the NHRA Fall Nationals. To keep me company on the 2 1/2 hour ride through Central Texas ranch lands, I tuned in to XM Satellite Radio. I flipped through the offerings until I caught an interesting-sounding interview being conducted of Michael Harris. Wow, it was so amazing that I recorded a voice memo afterwards to capture my thoughts about his comments.


Michael has just written a book entitled The End of Absence. It is about how connected we have become with our friends, families, work place and even strangers who we now call Friends, through all the various social media outlets, email and texting and what this level of connectedness means for us both as individuals and as a society.


He shared his awakening moment when a friend Tweeted him one day. About five minutes later, his friend tweeted again, “Hey, are you alive?” His first thought? “Yes, I am alive, that is why I didn’t respond immediately!”


He then went on in the interview to discuss how different our world is now. When we went on a long vacation before all of this hyper connectivity, we prepared everyone for our absence. And our absence brought us great restoration, rest and relaxation. Now, we talk about needing a vacation from our vacation! Right?


As he went on sharing his observations, I could feel my total resonance with what he was saying right down to my toenails.


He talked about a study done by Microsoft to see how long it took their staff to return to the flow of their work, a deeply focused and creative state, after dealing with an email. The result? Fifteen minutes! We already have studies showing that on average we spend 1/3 of our time at work handling emails. Can you imagine how much time is spent NOT fully concentrating on our job at hand?


Add to that the number of access points we keep open while working. I work from home – maybe when you work at an office, there are fewer access points open, but I suspect if you have a smart phone, you are keeping a some of these open: email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Skype, YouTube, Tumblr, and Snapchat. You may even have two monitors or work with a split screen so you can toggle back and forth between what you are working on and what comes in through social media and email instantly.


You probably, like me, have notifications turned on so that you are constantly being pinged from one direction or another, often the same notification will come in on multiple devices. Ding, dong, ping, whistle . . . I already factor in my ADD tendencies, but this kicks ADD up to a whole new astro-level!


What is the cost of this constant connection?


According to Michael Harris and others, the cost is very high.


You see, our brains are NOT CAPABLE of multi-tasking. Our brains do not work like a computer, which can have many programs running simultaneously. Our minds have to switch between tasks. Some of us can task switch extremely quickly, seemingly multi-tasking, but we are not actually multi-tasking. Others of us task switch with a little more difficulty, making it extremely difficult to really pay sustained attention fully to anything.


Michael spoke about Linda Stone’s work in the area of investigating our current escalating pattern of continuous partial attention. Here is an excerpt from her blog post about CPA:


To pay continuous partial attention is to pay partial attention — CONTINUOUSLY. It is motivated by a desire to be a LIVE node on the network. Another way of saying this is that we want to connect and be connected. We want to effectively scan for opportunity and optimize for the best opportunities, activities, and contacts, in any given moment. To be busy, to be connected, is to be alive, to be recognized, and to matter.


Every time we are pinged, our brain lights up. Our internal dialogue says, “Wow, someone needs/wants/values me!” We feel super-charged. We matter! Our comments have been shared, retweeted, reposted, responded to! It feeds our ego. No matter that the majority of the times we are pinged, it is not even about us. Just the thought that it will be is enough to light up our brain’s pleasure center and cause us to stop what we are doing to see who needs/wants/values us.


I believe an even greater price is being paid by how this constant connectedness is affecting our real-time relationships. Be honest – who do you greet first when you get up in the morning – your spouse, kids, the dog OR your virtual community? Do you reach for your smart phone before you even throw your legs out of bed to get up? I have found myself doing that. I used to never even turn my cell phone on until after I was up, had exercised, showered and had my breakfast. Now by that time, I have read all my emails, caught up with friends, pseudo friends and total strangers on Facebook, and responded to several conversations on Skype.


And I start the day with my stress levels much higher than I used to because I start getting pulled in many different directions before I have taken the time to center in. How about you? I have to wonder: what price are we paying for this?


What about having a conversation with a loved one who is in a state of continuous partial attention? I know, because I can be that loved one. This is my thought process, “Uh-oh, I just said mmmm-hmmm to something he said. What did he say?! Was it important, did I need to pay closer attention?” I honestly will have NOT EVEN HEARD the words he said. They just do not register.


And I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my husband and I will never grow closer if our interactions are primarily happening while we are paying continuous partial attention to each other.


It is no longer acceptable to me to be unconsciously connected, and that is what is happening to me when I am in this state of continuous partial attention. I want, instead, to be consciously unconnected from all the pinging, tweeting, posting and tagging.


Take a moment to read this great blog post about how to create a more healthy relationship with social media and email: 52 Weeks of Habits.


I plan to begin creating more planned absences. What about you?