By Tim Hayes

It happens to me at least three or four times a week.  Driving through the parking lot of our local supermarket, some daydreamer coming out of the store walks right out into passing traffic, completely oblivious to the fact that a rolling ton of steel, glass, and rubber under my control is inches away, capable of turning Dopey into pavement pudding.

Then the best part – they turn, startled, at me in the driver’s seat, and give me a dirty look.  Like it’s my fault they’re zombie-walking their way through life.

What’s the old saying?  “God takes care of children and fools,” or something like that.  Examples abound, offering proof positive of this idea.

I find this a fascinating phenomenon.  Why, with all of the communication available at our fingertips, do we still wander about, bumbling through life, half-asleep, dodging catastrophe by the skin of our teeth, and many times never even realizing it?

Could it be that the plethora of communications channels actually serves as the platform for the very lack of awareness I’m describing?  Because we can text, Tweet, e-mail, Skype, Instagram, and even talk one-to-one at any time and from anywhere, instantly, have our brains hit saturation?  Is the spongy gray matter between our ears soaked to capacity, leaving little room for rational thought or, at the very least, the common sense to not walk into traffic?

According to an article published 15 years ago, every American at that time saw more ads alone in one year than people at the end of World War II did in their entire lifetimes.  That ratio has got to be down to something closer to three months by now.  The book “Data Smog” states that the average American encountered 560 daily advertising messages in 1971. By 1997 that number had increased to more than 3,000 per day.  Again, that number must be exponentially higher in 2013.  And those statistics only count advertising messages, not messages received by electronic and social media channels.

Henry David Thoreau had it right, when he said, “Our life is frittered away by detail…Simplify, simplify, simplify!…Simplicity of life and elevation of purpose.”  From 1845 to 1847, Thoreau lived in a cabin on the edge of Walden Pond, a small lake near Concord, New Hampshire.  He practiced what he preached, radically limiting his expenses, possessions, and contact with others.

Can you imagine what he would think about the tools available to us today?  If Thoreau thought society was too cluttered in 1847, today he might have tied a cinder block around his neck, jumped headfirst into Walden Pond, and never resurfaced.

The old guy was onto something, though.  How many times have you hit the horn because the person in front of you at a red light doesn’t move when it turns green because he’s texting?  Or how many times have you seen a teenager occupy a place at a restaurant table, totally ignoring everyone else, while checking her Twitter account?

The problem spills into the modern workplace, as well.  A recent story* described “phone phobia” among younger sales people, meaning that they don’t know how to interact with another human being by speaking one-to-one.  Sales are being lost due to miscommunication, when the only way to connect is via text or e-mail.  One young sales guy actually unplugs his office desk phone and hides it in a filing cabinet.  That can’t be good.

Here’s my corollary to Thoreau for today’s society.  Turn the damn cell phone off, at least two hours every day.  The hours can be of your choosing, but I mean turn it completely off, and put it somewhere you won’t be tempted to check it, touch it, play with it.

We’re sleepwalking through too much of life because we’re addicted to smartphone data.  Meanwhile, there’s a wonderful parade of people and conversation and sales relationships and oncoming traffic we’re missing.

Wake up!  Before it’s too late, and I unwittingly turn you into pavement pudding in front of the supermarket.


Copyright 2013 Tim Hayes Consulting