“Quien nunca está solo, ya no se conoce a sí mismo, y quien no se conoce a sí mismo empieza a temer el vacío”
Paulo Coelho, Manuscrito de Accra
When I was at university I spent a year in the Erasmus program studying in Málaga, Spain. Mobile phones weren’t common place, the internet as we know it still a distant dream. So I was cut off from immediate and instant communication with my family and friends. All phone contact was instigated by me, standing in a phone box with stack of 100 Pesetas coins, otherwise contact was limited to letters, which meant arranging a visit took several months. No texts about boarding, no apps to check any flights delay, just a lot of trust, tolerance, faith and leeway. Lots of time waiting, pondering and just living.
Being disconnected from my life in Germany, in a country whose language I initially struggled with, was scary. In those early days I would have loved Facebook. That said, not having it, not being connected instantly and permanently was incredibly liberating and empowering. Those experiences shaped me as a person, gave me a new understanding and appreciation of who I was and enabled me to build and nurture new friendships.
Compare that with our current set up, the ‘connected age’ and the emergence of ‘Gen C’. Tomi Ahonen describes Gen C as always connected, making decisions together, facing all of the difficulties and celebrating all the opportunities jointly. It’s all in all very positive and very desirable, isn’t it?
The instant communication, the permanent connection, also leads to a new and different pressure and stress: the anxiety of missing out. The latest Evenbase Mobile research shows that “Mobile is vital in a changing market but also contributes to an intensive, stressful job search experience”, because it gives job seekers an even greater feeling that they might miss out in this ever connected world. It heightens the anxiety and stress that they already feel.
Each one of us has our own example of when our behaviors, our beliefs have increased anxiety, when we check mobile phones repeatedly, refresh websites franticly, only to discover that life lacks the speed and urgency we desire.
Some German companies, such as VW, are disconnecting the email service on their executives’ mobile phones at weekends, as they want them to rest and recover (as Chris Shambrook & co will tell you one of the most important yet least appreciated phases for any high performer). Some people take social media holidays. Now, whilst I am not a fan of these draconian methods, I completely understand the point they are making: They want to reconnect to the slower, natural rhythm of life.
We would be better off accepting and connecting to this pace of life instead of desperately trying to speed it up, intensify the feelings we have. The feedback/feedforward mechanism becomes the ever growing snowball. Some urgency is positive, too much urgency is detrimental. Or as the Navy Seals say: “Slow is Smooth. Smooth is Fast.”
For me, it is not about going on social media holidays or being forced when to stop and start, that’s just like extreme yo-yo dieting and binge drinking. For me, it is about about striking a balance between all the good things of social and mobile – such as the direct and instant person-to-person communication that brings us all closer together, experiencing the vitality across the world, sharing our knowledge, accessing the phenomenal richness of information and knowledge and the unrestricted flow of information – and the times when we are connecting with the present, the Here and Now, the people and places in our presence. The latter doesn’t signify being disconnected, but being connected in a different, often deeper, unconscious manner, finding one’s own rhythm and ultimately internalising the social/mobile connectedness at a different level.
So, if I choose to answer your email tomorrow instead of today, if I choose to update my blog only every 4 months, if I use Twitter more erratically, it isn’t a reflection on the importance of the sender or the usefulness of social media, it is just because I have chosen to integrate the digital world properly into the rhythm of (my) life.