We were at dinner at a restaurant last week when a father, mother and their daughter (likely a teenager) sat down in the table next to ours. We were engrossed in conversation as we were catching up with a friend we hadn’t seen in ages.
A few minutes later, our friend said – “Check out the quality conversation at the next table.” Sure enough, all three of them were busy on the phone.
Minutes passed. Dinner had been served but that was just a side show – they were still on the phone.
A few minutes later, we saw the teenager abandon all pretense and put on her headphones. The Dad seemed busy on WeChat. The mom alone was silently eating her dinner.
It isn’t unusual to see phones being used at the dinner table. Earphones, however, are a completely different matter.
That is, at least, what I thought.
But, are they any different? Pulling out our phone at dinner is us implicitly saying – “This is more important than the food and the people on the table.” So, what makes putting on earphones any worse than texting?
This, to me, speaks to the danger of marginal cost thinking. Just as saying “just this once” is a recipe for disaster, making an excuse for a “small thing” isn’t any better.
Small things, done repeatedly, become the big things.
I received a long email about an important project last week. I had a few questions about the email and decided to just call the person who’d written to me to go through my questions. We had a 10 minute conversation that would almost certainly have required 8-10 emails.
I do this once a while but don’t do it nearly as often.
A similar thought had crossed my mind earlier that day when someone I knew texted me with what could only be described as a pretty heavy discussion topic. As I let that discussion play out in my head, I realized that there was no way I’d get through the work I needed to get done if I spent time texting. So, I suggested that we better discuss this in person and ducked out.
I think the insight for me is that we often unconsciously tie ourselves down to whichever channel we receive communication in and don’t question if that would be the right place for continuing it. Having so many possible channels is a blessing simply because we can tailor the communication to the right channel. That only works if we use it well.
A wiser friend regularly responds to emails that require a long response with a phone call. Of course, this may not work for everyone at every time. But, he has a point. Sometimes, it is just better to pick up the phone.
There’s a benefit to reflection that isn’t apparent when you get started. That’s because it takes time for thoughts to percolate and crystallize into insight and then action.
As I reflected on my use of devices a few days ago, an idea that stuck was that I was very aware of the fact that rolling over to my phone and checking messenger notifications and emails first thing in the morning was a very negative habit. And, yet, I regularly went through phases when I did it. As I rolled over to do it a few days back, I asked myself why this was so difficult.
The analogy that popped to mind was one about eating healthy. The way to eat healthy is not to surround yourself with unhealthy food and test your willpower. Instead, it is to throw all unhealthy food out and only keep healthy food at home. Music piracy in the US became a non issue the moment it became easy to download songs via services like iTunes. Convenience matters.
So, why not keep my phone out of the bed room? I felt that slightly panicked reaction – “How will I wake up without an alarm?”
And, thus, I finally understood why I was so used to keep my phone by my side. This reason had gotten lost over time. Fast forward 3 days, I keep my phone outside our bed room as of 8pm and use my iPad to set an alarm. My iPad is primarily a FaceTime + media consumption device. So, checking stuff first thing in the morning is a non issue.
It has felt wonderful.
Rohan 1, Negative energy device habits 0.