Simon Sinek, one of my favorite authors, discusses millennials in the workplace. I found it to be an insightful and incredible discussion on exactly why companies have such a hard time with millennials. To Sinek, one of the major problems is millennials’ addiction to their phones. Back in the day, before a meeting started, you would socialize with your coworkers, ask about their families, talk about work, etc. Now, no one talks because everyone is glued to their phone. It drives him up the wall, because this very important form of socialization and bonding in the workplace is now disappearing.
It’s not just a workplace issue, either. How many times are you out to dinner and everyone is checking their phones? How many times do you walk into a glass door because you are looking intently at the phone (not saying I did this recently or anything)? How often do you talk to someone while staring at the phone (“I’m paying attention, I swear!”)?
When I first started traveling in 2006, if a hostel had a computer, it was a big deal. I remember taking pictures and going to Internet cafés to upload them to my MySpace page or waiting for my turn at the hostel computer to check my email. No one I knew traveled with a phone. If you made plans to meet someone in another city, you just had to hope they would stick to them or wouldn’t get delayed. You were connected sparingly, but that never seemed to matter. You wanted to be disconnected, because that was the whole point — to break away and explore the world.
But over the last few years, I’ve seen a remarkable shift in social interactions in hostels. Now, it’s all like “This hostel’s Wi-Fi doesn’t even reach my dorm room!” While hostels are still incredible places to meet new people, they aren’t as incredible as they used to be, because everyone is on their phone, computer, or iPad, watching Netflix, working, or checking Facebook. No one is just hanging out and interacting with each other like before. I find this really sad and depressing.
I’m not against technology or all this beautiful Wi-Fi. We now have Google Maps, and we can book rooms and flights from our phone, stay in touch easier, and communicate better. Wondering why your friend isn’t at the appointed meeting spot on time? No problem! Now you can just ping them a message on WhatsApp. Problem solved!
But, as much as technology has helped us, I think we’ve really lost one of the most beautiful aspects of travel. Constant distraction keeps us from observing the place we are at and being present in the moment. Too often we’re glued to the phone, Snapchatting and Instagramming that moment but never really being in it. We’re in a hostel reading the news online or chatting with our friends back home instead of meeting people. We’re at dinner looking up Facebook “for just a second,” wondering how many people liked our last photo. Or on some adventure activity but Snapchatting the experience.
A few years ago, I read the book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. In it, the author Marshall Goldsmith talked about how if you are doing something else while talking to someone, you are subtly signaling to them that they aren’t important, even if you can parrot back everything they said. I thought about that and realized I did that all the time. I was only ever half there. That book made me rethink how I interact with people. It taught me to put away my phone, to make better eye contact, and focus on the people around me.
It was a very hard thing to do, as I was totally addicted to my phone. (And the video above reminded me that recently I’ve backslid into my old ways: too often I use my phone as a crutch when I’m bored or have downtime.)
Last year, as part of my anxiety-reducing initiative, I cut down the amount of work I do when I travel. When I go some place new, I put the computer away. If I’m not going for a “workcation” or a conference, the computer is off.
I write this from Malta. During my four-day jaunt around the island with friends, I didn’t open my computer. I didn’t write. There were a few tweets and posted pictures, and when someone was caught on their phone, we reminded each other to put it down. We focused on enjoying the destination and being present.
I don’t want this to be a “get off my lawn” kind of post, but think about it — how often and how long do you go without your phone? When you travel, how many times are you “pulled away” from the experience while commenting on someone’s last post? Did you travel around the world so you can check on what your friends back home are doing, or did you go for the adventure?
This year, as we travel, let’s pledge to put our damn phones away. Let’s not retreat into our safe zone when we feel slightly uncomfortable around strangers or in silence. Let’s interact with the people and places we are visiting. Observe the amazing scenes around you. Say hello to someone new. Give yourself 15-30 minutes max — and then put the computer or phone away, step out the door, and take in the world!
This year I am going to refocus on getting off my phone and being more present when I travel. Join me in doing so!
If you’re traveling with someone, tell them to remind you to put the phone away. Eventually, you’ll break your habit. If you are traveling alone, leave your phone in your dorm when you go downstairs. You’ll be forced to interact with people.
Let’s make 2017 the year we stop curating our lives, cut the umbilical cord to home, put away our phones, and enjoy the moment and beauty in front of us!