3 Dec

Being Present

The other day I was waiting for my wife Hilary at a local restaurant. Out of habit I sat down in the lobby, pulled out my  iPhone, and started reading email and Twitter. I often fill even a few minutes of down time by fiddling with my phone, but for some reason this time was different. Do I have really such a short attention span that I must find a way to entertain myself for even two minutes?

It’s normal that those emails I glance at have me thinking about them for another thirty minutes. Often well into dinner or whatever other social event I am at. And why? I can’t do anything about them. If a client needs help I have to wait until I am back at a computer with dedicated time to actually solve their problem. So I didn’t actually gain anything by being momentarily occupied with my phone.

This is especially noticeable during meetings at work. First we have a meeting that may or may not be important, but then half the people spend their time staring at their phones or laptops. Then when asked their opinion it has to be explained again since no-one was fully present.

While at conferences and other social events where I don’t know anyone I use my phone to pretend to be busy. That way I look less awkward and don’t have to go to the effort of joining conversations and introducing myself to new people. Later it always frustrates me, but I never seem to change the habit. My phone has become an odd crutch.

So I decided this time would be different. I put my phone away and just looked around the room. People watching can be quite interesting and somehow relaxing. After a few minutes I struck up a conversation with the Maitre d’. Odd how you can actually engage people when you give your attention to them. When I found out Hilary would be a bit longer I wandered over to the bookstore next door.

Then when we did sit down to dinner my mind was free of the distractions of email and work. Instead I had things to talk about related to the books I had just been browsing. Things I knew Hilary and I have a mutual interest in.

Email, Twitter, and Facebook can all wait. Be present. Your colleagues, friends, and family deserve it.

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7 Responses to “Being Present”

  1. David says:

    You know Nathan, this is something I’ve been thinking about lately and you make a really good point. Good thoughts.

    (Busted!)


  2. Good points! I never really thought about it until I read this post, I do kill time by trying to fill my days downtime with catching up on anything from twitter, emails to latest things I have added to my read later list. I have often thought that it was the best way to maximize my time while waiting for something or someone. BUT reading this post just made me realize that for 30mins later I am subconsciously thinking about something interesting I just found out on twitter, or an issue a client may be having or maybe a future project in the pipeline.

    I will take note, and good post Nathan.


  3. You just replaced one form of distraction (email, iphone) with another (chit-chat, books).

    Try sitting, being fully present. You’ll find yourself occupied in thoughts. Try to not have those thoughts. Just be.


  4. kelvin says:

    Just discovered this article on HN. Thanks for the reminder!


  5. Tony Ledford says:

    There must be a current of thought running through right now because I’ve been noticing this trend for some time. I ride the bus everyday and it’s interesting to note how many people have their faces stuck in their phones. Nobody socializes anymore – everyone wears headphones and other gear to isolate themselves. It’s really sad that people can’t leave their gadgets alone and talk with real human beings who are right there in the same space with them.


  6. Have you looked at nightclubs lately?
    The lit labels of Dom Perignon compete with the lit screens of phones.


  7. Great post. It’s always refreshing to remind ourselves that there is, indeed, a world of interesting people/things surrounding us.


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