Turning It Off

Time is relative. One hour plagued by boredom is not the same as one hour engaged in excitement; one hour of anxiety is not the same as one hour of tranquility; one hour constantly distracted by communication devices is not the same as one hour focused on the task at hand. One focused hour can breed masterful compositions, staggering discoveries, or significant social influence. To attain the attentiveness required, communication devices have to be turned off and set aside.

Over half of Americans have smartphones and over forty percent of Americans are active Facebook users. We are in an age where interactions occur through technology, and using devices that are current and developing provides personal and business opportunities. While communication devices can be extraordinary professional tools, they are more often used for social purposes. According to Tammy Erickson of the Harvard Business Review Blog Network, “We’ve spent a fortune on collaborative technology, but no one is using it… or if they are, it’s for purely social, non-productive activities.” It is undeniable that communication devices are distractions from productivity; even the most disciplined of us obsessively check our phones to see if anything has changed, knowing it hasn’t; we let hours waste away on the Internet without our noticing.

While turning off communication devices does result in productivity, we can only be prolific in tasks that we are most efficient in, which will vary day to day and even hour to hour. In reality, I would usually spend time away from the Internet and my phone catching up: folding, organizing, or finishing incomplete projects. However, if feeling energetic, I might spend this time engaging in hobbies allocated for my sparse free time: playing guitar, running, or taking photos. If feeling exhausted, I might spend this time relaxing: searching for new music, reading a novel, or sleeping.

Woven into each of these days, however, and hopefully woven into my future career, would be one activity I have countless times tuned out the world for: writing. To instruct me to write for one hour is meaningless; one hour in my created world may in physical time be but a second or be hours upon end. One idea fosters an image, a thought, a sentence, and then a story. The words flow through my mind faster than my fingers can type them. The world outside of my own is forgotten.

Until the vibrating of my phone pulls me out.

Productivity can only occur during focused periods, and distractions drastically diminish our potential focus. This is not to say that detachment is healthy or even useful; we need a human connection on a societal and individual level to garner our full potential intellectually, creatively, and personally. The best sources of inspiration are other people, places, and experiences. We cannot achieve our true value as a member of society while inaccessible and remote.

However, just as isolating ourselves during a group activity is crippling, so is being communicable while engaged in an individual activity. In an age where technology lends us almost any connection at any given moment, we must learn to determine how to use these devices responsibly and most beneficially. If we learn when we can use these devices to our greatest advantage, they will serve their purpose. If we learn when to turn them off, we can serve ours.