As those who know me know, I’ve become pretty much impossible to get a hold of by nearly any means of instant communication. This might come as a shock, as it rides against the convention of our always on, always accessible culture. This isn’t a matter of disregard or a lack of consideration for others. It’s actually the opposite – by using these communication tools this way, I’m free to provide my full attention to the experience at hand, and the people I’m with.
We have so many technologies that allow us instant communication – phone calls, texting, emails, instant messages, and video chat. It’s not that I’ve stopped using them – in fact, I have access to all of them on my app-phone, a device that I almost always have with me. But I keep my phone on silent most of the time – it’s only allowed to get my attention when I’m expecting an important call or message. So for the most part, phone calls, text messages, and instant messages are used in a delayed response fashion (this goes doubly so for emails, where notifications are turned off altogether).
I do check on up on messages, but the interval varies immensely. If I’ve got some dead time while walking somewhere, or waiting for code to compile at work, or actually using my communication device to do some light reading, I’ll take a look and triage or reply to messages. But if I’m out doing stuff like skating around the city or spending time with friends, or if I’m in the middle of a coding spree at work, it could be hours before I check on messages.
Now this seems like quite a bit of inconvenience, for me in that I may miss important or urgent messages, and for others that are trying to reach me. But there’s two major points that ameliorate this concern. The first is that messages are hardly as urgent as they seem – many of them can be replied to later. Likewise, many seemingly urgent messages are artificially urgent, often due to a lack of foresight in planning. For many folks I interact with, this isn’t a problem [anymore] because they know to mention things to me early and not at the last minute if they wish to get a response. I find that this actually helps to make everyone’s plans more consistent.
The second and more outstanding point is that by ignoring my phone, I’m allowed to achieve flow, a mental state of intense focus, efficiency, and enjoyability. This is something we induced constantly in karate class, where we took the time to meditate at the beginning of every class. This served to put us in a mindset where nothing else mattered in the world outside of the dojo: any concern or problem was irrelevant and the training before us was the only thing we were to have in mind. In a pragmatic sense, this held very true, and this intense focus was necessary to push our minds and bodies to new levels. At the end of our training sessions, we meditated once more to prep our minds to return to the real world. This tenet in karate to train only with an absolutely focused mind applies to most other aspects of life – when engaged work, play, learning, and with other people. I experience an enormous sense of liberation when I’m in such a state of mind – that there’s only one thing that I have concentrate on.
Fittingly, I feel most connected with the experience at hand when I’m disconnected from everything else – the benefits are incredible: At work, it permits me to engineer a solution to some complex and mentally demanding problem. When reading, it allows my mind to drift into that of the author, where our ideas mingle to form new ones. When writing, it means i can surface the months or years of experience and learning into a concise article, like this very one you’re reading.
Being inaccessible to others for the sake of the above examples seems to come off as a selfish act. But the application for flow applies when engaged with people because it imbues that one is completely accessible. At work, this means I can devote my full attention to answer a coworker’s question. When out roller blading, it means I can push my friends harder while minding the roads for hazards. When with friends and family, it means I can listen to their thoughts and ideas and make for a meaningful conversation. You can’t put a value on giving a person your full attention.
This manner of using [and ignoring] communication technology has come through a lot of mindful experimenting and observation. In the process, I’ve made plenty of mistakes and even offended a few people. But I’ve come out with a strong sense of how to make the best of these tools, gaining the ways to connect using new technologies while keeping intact the more sacred connections of here and now. I suggest trying your own experiment with this. Evaluate how you use phone or emails. You might find a life more focused on the things that matter most.