When Social Media Is Distracting… Are You Present?

Now here is something I have struggled with for the longest time. It started with just emails at night and on the weekend before there was a blackberry and the palm pilot was king. Now with the rise of social media networks like Facebook and Twitter and devices like the iPhone… They all rule the virtual world from the palm of our hand.

Spence-Smith-Social-Media-Distraction

But when the virtual world takes over our real world… are you present? Are you engaged in real life? Are you constantly looking down at your phone for the next twitter message or text message from a friend?

How long is your attention span really… Is this your addiction?

A dear friend called me out a couple of years ago when a bunch of us were out at dinner. I was checking my phone and sending text messages. Later she told me she thought it was rude and thought real conversations were worth the time and effort to be in the moment with friends and that I could play with my phone some other time.

She was right.

So ever since then, it’s been something I’ve been working on… I’m a social media relational guy!!! I love being connected, but not as much as being connected in real life conversations and experiences.

Now I’m to a point to when I sit down with someone face to face – the iPhone goes in the pocket or face down on the table so I can’t see what is popping up on the screen.

Sure, there are appropriate times to check texts, emails or send out a twitter update when in the presence of other people… especially if something happens that is “twitter worthy”.  But for the most part, when I am in the presence of friends or family or in meetings… I want to be fully present and fully engaged in the conversation.

Is this you? Do you have this problem too?

I have certain friends I can be with where twitter and texts is perfectly fine until we get into real conversation. Then it all goes away.

In fact here are a couple of things I do that help.

  1. Turn the phone on vibrate and all text messages to silent. This means I can feel the phone when a call comes through but when a text pops up I won’t know it unless I actually look at my phone. Otherwise my phone will constantly be buzzing and that’s only good if you really like the feel of a good phone buzz.
  2. Turn twitter ‘off’ so that it doesn’t come in as a text message. I do this for Direct Messages as well. Just text ‘off ‘once to twitter and messages will stop. Text ‘off’ to twitter again and Direct Messages stop as well.

These two points help me stay focused in conversation and doesn’t distract anyone else in the process.

Sure… I may miss a lot of what is happening online in the process… but it’s worth it.

I can always go back to my phone and check messages with an iPhone app that allows me to see twitter replies and Direct Messages so I can respond later.

So tell me… What do you do to stay Present in the conversation? How do you stay focused and fully engaged in conversation when you’re your virtual world is just one text message away?

  • http://themusicgardener.com Keith Stancil

    Great post Spence. I battle with this daily. I grab my iPhone when I'm bored and I'm realizing I'm bored quite a bit. Trying to live more with being bored in tough but neccessary to respect others. I'm hoping the boredom dissapears the more I embrace it.

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  • http://intensedebate.com/people/JasonWert JasonWert

    The only time I really fight this is when I'm either expecting a call from my kids or my wife. I try to make them my #2 and #3 priorities after God and so when I'm expecting them to call for some reason I'm always on the alert to the phone for a text message or tweet. I know, however, it's really rude to pick up the BlackBerry and check a tweet in a conversation. I'm working on it. Good thoughts this morning Spence! Thanks!

  • http://www.gospelpundit.com EJ Gaines

    Well-said and challenging. I typically LIVE with my phone on silent, so that I barely know what's happening when. Still, I find myself looking at it every 45 seconds (may as well leave it on vibrate, I suppose).

    It kinda depends on who I'm with, which I should probably analyze too… when I'm at home, with my wife, the blackberry has to take a backseat. When I'm out with friends, who are also Crackberry addicts and Twitter junkies, I'm multi-tasking like mad. I don't think they mind…

    But I suppose 20 years ago, we were content to have only a home phone and few of us even had internet at home… bring back the days?

  • http://jesusgeek.info John

    Spence, here are the things I do to keep face-to-face relationships free from social media distractions:

    I don't accept text messages on my smartphone at all. I also have configured Facebook not to send email or text messages every time it wants to notify me of something. Every social media application on my Blackberry is set to manual updates. Email is pushed automatically but I have notifications set to off (except for a flashing LED) even in the "Normal" profile. I make an effort to keep my smartphone holstered when I'm in a conversation or meeting (I'm not always successful in some meetings, however).

    All of this helps me stay focused on the person in front of me rather than a device in my hand or pocket.

  • http://www.successfulfreelancewriter.com Kathryn Lang

    I only have a regular cell phone, so this is not a problem for me. But even then, I try to keep my phone turned down so that if it rings I can check it and it does not disturb others.

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  • Jeff Giedt

    As I start a meeting, or time with a friend over coffee, I usually take my phone out, turn it off and set it on the table in front of me. This sends two messages to those I am engaging 1) You are important to me right now and have my attention and 2) It would be appropriate for you to do the same.

    If there is a call that I am expecting, I'll let them know before hand that we might be briefly interrupted when my wife calls or whatever, and I'll put the phone on vibrate and honor that I'll only answer the call I'm expecting.

    Really good stuff Spence. Glad you brought this up.

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  • http://elainaavalos.blogspot.com Elaina

    I have to admit that I haven't been very good at balancing this part of my life. I've been out of work since February. And while I have plenty to keep me busy during the day (like working on my novel) it keeps me in front of the computer a lot. Which means that Facebook and Twitter in particular are very distracting. At one point, I had to delete my previous Twitter account because it all became too much.

    I couldn't hear myself think. I couldn't focus on the writing. I couldn't hear what God was trying to tell me about my next big steps in life. There was just too much noise!! So I deleted Twitter. I knew that I wouldn't simply ignore it. If it was there, I would be tempted to log on. I held onto Facebook because there are just way too many family members and friends that I keep in nearly daily or weekly contact and that's so important to me. But, I did limit the amount of time I spent on FB and tried using the "offline" option so that I wasn't accepting every invite to chat. :)

    The experience was really good for me. And I don't regret stepping back. I now have a new Twitter account. And that break was enough to get me in the right frame of mind so that I don't feel like it will be a distraction anymore.

  • http://wetfishdesigns.com/blog Cyndi

    I think I use social media (mostly Twitter) to avoid my life or perhaps the people in the room. Probably just as bad and rude as texting at the table during dinner (an activity my niece is guilty of and I've called her on many times). Sometimes it is the whining children begging me for the umpteenth time for something I've told them they cannot have. Sometimes it is to avoid difficult engagements with people I simply can't handle at that moment. I think it is sad when I asked my niece to blog for me about something important in her life, something that gives her meaning. Her reply? She is writing a blog post for me about the importance of texting in a young woman's life. Sad, but true. Perhaps my sister got the cell phone bill and she was in trouble that night when we talked. Regardless, I've been on the receiving end of someone that texts or twitters away while I am there and your friend is right, I felt inferior to the iPhone on many occasions and it isn't right. And if I was one of those people making your iPhone light up or buzz when you were doing something important, sorry :(

  • http://www.tweetpages.com Matt Clark

    Here is a video about this very thing. Social Media, family, interruptions, etc

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RKCCIXt8jeE

  • judy

    I'm so glad I'm part of the Baby Boom! I remember what real conversations are like…in fact, I know other boomers, so I actually still HAVE real conversations.

    How do you guys get anything done?

  • http://www.serialmicrosoftoffice2007.totalh.com Alto

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