Monday, August 29, 2011

Are we hyperconnected? - HLN

We discussed hyperconnectivity on HLN a few days ago and it's a topic that always has me thinking.

As someone who just completed Digital Rehab, after being sent by my employer (click here to see this segment featured on CBS), I feel like I have some say in the matter. So does Pew Research Center, which recently released stats about just how connected we are.

    * Half of all adult cell phone owners (51 percent) have used their phone at least once to get information they needed right away. One quarter (27 percent) said that they experienced a situation in the previous month in which they had trouble doing something because they did not have their phone at hand.

    * 13 percent of cell phone users reported deflecting awkward conversations by faking phone calls.

     *  Only 29 percent of cell owners turn off their phone to get a break from using it.

Nearly 35 percent of Americans own a smartphone of sorts. I’m convinced that this is one of the biggest reasons for hyperconnectivity—not our computers. Our phones are on us—and we’re on them—24/7. That doesn’t just mean we’re making phone calls, it means we’re texting, social networking and using the Internet at all times. We are tethered to it. We feel naked when we don’t have it, even for a few hours.

I wake up to three alarms at 5 a.m. on my iPhone, BlackBerry and a custom app on my iPad (yes, it takes that many alarms most days). As soon as I get out of bed, my digital day begins. I turn on my MacBook, check my two phones and plan to be in front of a computer for 12 hours. I’m not ashamed to say that I feel lonely without the Internet. I think a lot of people can relate.

But while the above numbers and stats provide perspective, it’s up to us to use them as springboard to the next conversation: Accepting that we are hyperconnected, how do we balance that with the rest of our lives?

See, even in the throes of my connectivity, I see the potential for problems. Who is going to police me if not myself? I’m setting a precedent for myself, and others. If I’m constantly online checking in, I expect others to be hyperconnected, too. If I don’t get an email or text back immediately, I am disappointed and confused. I expect people to answer work emails on the weekend. And even in my downtime, I can’t enjoy a peaceful moment without thinking about posting it in a status update.

But I do have limits. I make it a priority to power down (or, at least, stow away) my devices when I’m having a conversation in real time. When we’re talking one-on-one, I want your attention, and you should have mine.

I’m learning more and more that I need to outline those expectations for others. The other day I was at dinner with an individual who kept checking his phone. "Am I boring you?" I asked. I didn’t expect him to say “yes” (the answer, in fact, was “no”), but it was important to me to set the precedent that it is not okay with me to keep checking your phone. Of course, there are exceptions.

Soon after that, I was hanging out with a friend who was in town for a couple of days. He asked if we could put our phones away, since we only had a few hours together. I respected that he asked, but explained that I was waiting for an important text from a family member. He understood that this was an exception, and my phone stayed out. But it was a reminder to me that in such events, we need to preface why we have our phones at the ready. It certainly wasn’t because he was boring me.

While we’re on the topic, there is another mobile phone pet peeve I witness countless times a day. The streets of NYC are clogged with texters, trying to spell while walking. It’s like they’re tech zombies in their own slow-motion movie, seemingly unaware that as they text, they’re stopping the flow of pedestrian traffic in the busy sidewalks surrounding them. Please, for the love of all things, if you need to text, just step aside.

Okay, enough about me. What are your tech frustrations and pet peeves?  Do you think you are hyperconnected? Do you have your own smartphone etiquette handbook?

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