The other night I went to see a performance by The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah. My youngest son and I had surprisingly expensive “cheap seats” as did everyone around us. Noah was hysterical as expected. What was unexpected, but shouldn’t have been, was the behavior of the woman beside me: she texted off and on throughout the show. While she was physically in the theater throughout the performance, she was rarely present. Her mind was elsewhere at least a third of the time.
She’s far from alone. Sporting arenas often have bars where dozens, if not hundreds, of people stand around having a great time not watching the game.
Like my seatmate at the concert, I think many people are happier to say they were physically at the event, than they were to actually be mentally there. The status and fun comes not from watching and listening (or cheering or laughing), but simply from saying you were there.
We’re in an era where recording where we are and what we are doing is often more important than the thing we are doing. We are so busy snapping selfies, sharing on Facebook and Instagram and SnapChat, that we are not fully a part of the world around us. We’re all too busy responding to emails and texts.
So wired are we that it’s getting hard to live with the idea of being disconnected even for a moment. Try proctoring the CCEP, CHC or any of the other certification exams. Before entering the room everyone is told to turn off their phone and that they’ll have to leave it with their bags. When they enter the room the message is repeated. Then, while the final announcements are made, the message is repeated again, and there is usually at least one person who jumps up to put his or her phone away, and is clearly shocked that we were serious about it.
Then, of course, there are the countless people you see on planes who think the admonition to put the phone in airplane mode applies to everyone but them.
We all feel the need to be connected, and are at the same time hopelessly distracted and elsewhere. The problem for us is that it’s a particularly acute risk for compliance. As the work of Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman has shown, our brain operates on two levels. System 1 is the part of the brain which we rely on every day to handle most of the basic decisions for us. System 2 is the more resource-intensive brain function that handles complex decisions. We only engage System 2 when we must, which is a problem to begin with since, “System 2 is the only one that can follow rules…and make deliberate choices between options.”
Basically, to follow the rules we need to use the part of the brain we tend to use only when we have to. Making it worse, more and more of us aren’t paying attention long enough – we’re too connected to others and our phones – to notice that we need the System 2 part of our brain functioning. We don’t realize we need to be all there and truly present.
So, what do we do? I would argue that we push for the rule, or at least the strong suggestion, that no one should make a decision with a phone in their hand or facing a screen. Better compliance and business decisions would likely result.
Just as people are learning that you can’t text and drive, they need to begin understanding that you can’t text and make a compliance decision or a good business decision. You can’t ask your mind to weigh risks, understand laws and regulations, or even your company’s code of conduct while it’s also engaged elsewhere. It’s more than our minds can handle.
Getting people to realize that they have to be truly present is hard, but we have to try. And if we can’t do that, let’s just agree amongst ourselves to put down the phone and be present more often.
[clickToTweet tweet=”Being Present @Adam Turteltaub” quote=”Being Present ” theme=”style3″]