The myth of 24/7 availability

May 21, 2006

I contributed to a comment stream over at Management Craft where Lisa has a great rant about the intrusive nature of mobile phones (I am soo with her on this one). The post is about the message we give to the person we are with when we ask them to hold on a moment while we answer our phones. The overt and covert message is that the person on the other end of the phone is more important than the person we’re talking with.I’ve seen the increase in this type of behaviour rocket in the past 24 months here in Ireland. As Lisa says

Unless you are the President (of a country), an on call neurosurgeon, or the only person with nuclear launch codes, you do not need to answer the phone. If you are talking with someone in person, it is rude and inconsiderate to interrupt that conversation. In addition, doing both things is pretty close to multitasking which we know is not an effective way to use time.

But the point I made over there and I’ll make it here again, is that this idea of being available 24/7 is a myth. I think there are a few things going on. Sometimes our sense of self is reliant on external sources. Being “available” is one way of feeling better about ourselves and in turn convincing ourselves that we really “matter”. The 24/7 thing with phones/blackberries is also a way of saying we are available to everyone all of the time which in turns means – to no one body most of the time. The relentless availability culture is in my opinion a charade that is an avoidance of “intimacy”. If I’m scanning my text messages or waiting to answer a call then I’m not available to the person I am with. My mind is wandering, my attention is frayed and I’m simply “not there”. “Showing up” then takes on a vacuous quality that undermines and gets in the way of an authentic meeting.
If I can’t pay attention and be present when I’m with someone – be it a personal friend or a business colleague then I’m wasting their time, being disrespectful and ultimately pretending to be interested. How can authentic communication happen under those circumstances? Being present is the best way we have of making the people we know “matter” and in turn having the same experience ourselves. So switch off the phone/blackberry and pay attention to the moment…yes, this moment, right now…