What’s it look like to slouch or yawn in the modern meeting? It’s not the physical leaning back or letting your mouth stretch wide open like you’d expect. There’s a new body language in the 21st century.
I remember sliding down the seat, leaning back like the most lackadaisical greaser poised on the hood of a pale blue t-bird, in the back row desk of a third grade class. Mrs. Hall, bless her heart, said something like, “Sit up, or you’ll end up looking like an old man.” I’ll take my chances. She continued, “It’s rude.” So? thinks the third grader.
The same “So?” attitude has translated from body language (slouching, snoozing, dozing, doodling, and so on) into the language of technology usage. If anything, we’re going from leaning backwards, to leaning forwards over our phones while others are speaking. At least we’re more constructive this way, right?
Maybe. But just as one would slouch to tune out, daydream, or pass the time, the misuse of technology similarly is a diversion of attention at its very core. We turn to text on our phones to distract ourselves, not because we have any pressing communication to make (most of the time).
University College London professor, Stefana Broadbent calls any imposing restriction on technological communication an oppressive force against the democratization of communication. It’s hard to take this completely seriously when you think of high schoolers texting immature jokes from underneath their desks (so that desks become “enablers of democratic Communication.”)
I think it’s valid to see that texting throughout the day can show someone you’re always thinking of them, but it’s hardly a substitute for conversation. At its center, turning to the phone isn’t communication at all. And at its usual worst, it is nothing but a diversion of attention.
Now, there’s something to be said for the freedom to devote one’s attention wherever one wishes. But I wonder if this freedom of attention, a newfound autonomy, is celebrated, or encouraged too much. It’s right there and it’s easier than focusing on the present moment at hand.
However, having direct access to anyone and anything on the web actually gives us the opportunity to be more moral: given the free will to choose between the present moment and the vapid text, or escapist site searching, you decide to tune into the person speaking in front of you.
Rather than isolating yourself behind buffers of technology, actively engage those around you whether its customers, fellow employees, or family and friends. It’s not that what they say will necessarily be relevant to you. Rather, it’s the conversational exchange that makes up relationships that should be relevant to everybody.
As a company, I can’t imagine a better ethos than a collection of listeners. Listening is relationally necessary for people to feel understood, respected, and validated—and you might even learn something yourself. You most likely will.
What do you think?