I left my phone at home the other day. I didn’t get a good night sleep the night before, and was so groggy in the morning, I simply didn’t remember to take it with me. This happens once every few years. But instead of turning around to go back home and get it, I decided to make my first meeting on time and to see what it would be like navigating my day without constant email, text messages, phone calls, games, GPS, Twitter, Facebook and RSS feeds… you get the picture.
My first thought was “What if I need to call home?” Then I remembered I had a desk phone (:-0), and gave my wife a quick call. Win! Now she knows my office number. In the last decade or so, I guess she’s never needed to call it, since I always have my cell phone. Now she has a backup number for me, so that’s good. But it’s not the most interesting part.
I also thought “But what if it’s an emergency and I’m not at my desk?” Then I thought about our personal emergency communication plan, and realized that the only way it was going to get used is if we both have the same emergency at the same time, e.g. something catastrophic like an earthquake. I didn’t think to ask her to turn a radio on, set to monitor throughout the day. Our plan clearly needs more tweaking. Since my commute isn’t that long, it’s really not a big deal. And if you remember back in the <gasp> 20th century, there was a time when nobody had a cell phone, and somehow we survived… But that’s still not the most interesting part.
The most interesting part of my day was what I noticed about the people around me.
I work at a high-tech company where most employees have smartphones, the kind that consume lots of data and have many, nifty apps, in addition to being used for work and personal email. Can you guess what it looks like on an elevator, walking between buildings, or in the cafeteria? The thing I noticed most is how many people were oblivious to the world around them because they were heads-down, focused on their phones! Even driving, when waiting at a light, I looked around more than before, and saw many drivers taking a break to surf the Internet or send a text message in the seconds between lights. Of course, it wasn’t everyone. But a lot of people were heads-down. Take a good look around, next time you’re in a crowd, or waiting at a light. What do you see?
How Aware Are You?
And I lied. While that was definitely interesting and got me thinking, it wasn’t the very most interesting part. The most interesting part was… you guessed it: all about me. I hadn’t noticed this before because my head was always buried in my phone! Fail. That’s what you call “inadequate situational awareness” or “condition white” for the more martial among you. If you leave your phone at home for a day and suddenly you notice some big, different things, you definitely weren’t paying enough attention before. Just like me. So don’t fail. Pay attention.
Set down your whiz-bang phone, tablet, iPod, or other gadget for a minute and look around. You may notice something you never noticed before.