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The curse of modern communication

When was the last time you checked your e-mail?  When was the last time you picked up your phone and checked to see if  you had any text messages?  How often do you log on to Facebook or Twitter?


If your answer to any or all of these questions is “less than 5 minutes ago” or “a few times every hour” or “I don’t know, I’ve lost track”….then  you have been struck by the curse of modern communication.  But don’t worry, there is a cure!


Isn’t it fantastic that we can keep in touch with people at the touch of a button that we can communicate with people all over the world in seconds?  I am not denying that modern communication is fantastic and has enabled businesses to grow and develop in ways that 20 years ago would not have been possible.  The advent of mobile devices, on-line communication platforms and free applications for communicating have enabled you and I to build our social and professional networks in a way that defies geography, time and financial constraints.  So, there is clearly a very good case for continuing to benefit from all of the above.


However, and for me it is a big HOWEVER….the way we communicate now, as compared with 20 years ago, is putting a greater and greater strain on our ability to switch off.  That lack of opportunity or ability to switch off is, in turn, having a detrimental effect on our health.  We have trouble sleeping, we get headaches, our blood pressure is raised, we feel anxious or stressed, we are unable to fully relax and ultimately our immune system is affected putting us at increasing risk of developing serious diseases and illnesses.


Many of us are afflicted by the need to be constantly checking our phone for updates, alerts and messages.  While we are travelling to work, while we are walking along the street, whilst watching TV and (most worryingly of all) whilst talking to a family member of listening to our children telling us about their day.  As we cannot truly multi-task, we are clearly doing neither activity to the best of our ability!


Where does this compulsion to check e-mails, Facebook or Twitter feeds and text messages come from?


There are a few things behind this:

  • the fear that we might be missing out on something
  • the desire to share our experiences with others
  • the need to a) fit in, b) look cool/fun/exciting c) compete with others
  • the need to stay in touch because we genuinely feel that is the right thing to do
  • pressure (real or perceived) from others to be available 24/7
  • we have simply become addicted to it, or it has become an unconscious habit


Some of the points on this list are not specific to modern communication, in fact, they are a part of what drives our behaviour in any social setting.  We are social animals and as such we have an in-built need to connect with others.  However, modern communication gives us such immediate connection with others that our desire and compulsion to stay in touch is heightened.  Our need to share what we are doing is also heightened because we want to be part of a group to feel valued and needed and respected by others and modern communication enables us to do that quickly and easily and to get instant feedback from potentially large numbers of people, which in turn can trigger those feelings.


It is great to be connected, to learn and share with each other, but the result is that our mind is constantly working, constantly processing information.  Our body is always on alert, stimulated by the bleep of the phone or the ping of the e-mail.  And that is just not good for us.


We need downtime.  We need the opportunity to allow our body and mind to reconnect and regain some sense of balance.  One of the best things you can do for yourself to maintain higher levels of productivity and to be able to respond to all of the demands that modern communication is placing on you, is to pause for a moment and think about what you are doing.  Pause and consciously engage with the action or activity so that you can choose how best to respond.


Here are some examples:

  1. As you reach out to pick up your phone, stop and ask yourself why you are picking up your phone.  Is it necessary to do so right now?  What would happen if you left it for another 10 minutes and then picked it up to check your messages? (you can then gradually extend that 10 minutes to 15, 20, 30 and then even 1 hour).
  2. When you find yourself logging on to Facebook or Twitter, stop and ask yourself how long it has been since you last logged on.  Is there likely to be anything new on there?  Is there likely to be anything that you really can’t miss?
  3. When a new e-mail message comes into your mailbox and your phone or PC alerts you to its presence, stop before you click the button to access it and ask yourself it looking at that mail more important than what you are doing right now?  Can checking your mail wait until you have finished the activity you are doing?
  4. As you find yourself beginning to multi-task, ask yourself which of the two (or three or four) activities deserves your full attention right now?  Then turn off, put down or move away from the other activities/distractions.


In essence, what I am suggesting is that you become more aware of what is going on for you in the moments before you unconsciously get sucked into the world of modern communication.  That way you can start to become aware of whether you have developed an unconscious pattern of behaviour  (or habit) or whether you genuinely do need to check that mail, log on to that social networking site, respond to that text message and so on.


Whilst you are gaining that awareness, also notice how you feel.  How do you feel when you are interrupted by an alert?  How do you feel when you respond to it?  Then, how does it feel to ignore it or decide to respond to it later?


Give it a go, even for a few days and let us know what happens for you!

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