Well, not to the hideous drug variety that is decimating so many cities and towns around the world, but more of the corporate (and presidential ) variety, an addiction that is very prevalent across the City, aka to the ‘crackberry’.
This week reminded me of the said condition… The scene is set as I go to the gym at the bank on an ordinary Tuesday afternoon, keen to maintain peak physical fitness as the perfect complement to my Pilates and yoga routine (and my ever-bulging waistline thanks to a pasta inspired diet at Notting Hill’s amazing suite of authentic Italian restaurants. Oops!)….
In the changing room I come across a desk head for which I am working on a hideously complex structured finance transaction (of the alphabet soup variety, if you know what I mean….). We speak briefly, noting the challenges that the particular transaction presented – the exchange is courteous and good-mannered, especially since meeting in a changing room is a mile away from the hustle and bustle of the trading floor.
What struck me next was remarkable: Instead of the gym, the phone was totally consuming his attention. I remember feeling such compassion for my colleague – with his back turned towards the change room mirrors as he hunched over the bench with the phone in his hands held between his knees. It was like I could feel the connection between him and his phone as it had his undivided attention.
Wouldn’t someone be eager to get down to the gym floor, not waste time and start working out or increasing his testosterone through lifting some weights? It seems not.
Such a scene is probably frequent across the City. Some folks, I have noted, bring their phone to the gym, sitting on the bike and responding to messages as they come in. I hear of people who sleep with their phones and respond to messages during the night. To me this is a red line, but to some people it’s normal. Is this really the culture we have created? With levels of dementia and Alzheimer’s on the rise and studies showing the importance of sleep having a ‘cleaning effect’ upon the brain, the invasion of phones into all areas of our lives is deeply worrying.
Britons themselves have recently admitted as much and engaged in ‘digital detoxes‘. Indeed, ‘millenials’ do not know a life without the internet, let alone social media. The advent of first, remote email devices such as the blackberry, and then smart phones has resulted in a generation, young and old completely devoted to their computers and devices.
As Nicole Fahri, fashion designer and sculptor, remarked in this weekend’s FT Life & Arts special on the perfect summer holiday and how to digitally detox in the sun, in response to the question as to whether she would share her summer experiences on social media:
“I’ll stay online but I would kill myself rather than inflicting myself on others”.
Such powerful imagery goes straight to the point of what it sometimes means to be connected in today’s digital age. With time being constant, it feels like with social media, the law of diminishing returns is at work with people fighting for (and stealing) that ever decreasing share of your (time) investment.
Practices like meditation can help in managing these habits, increasing focus and being more mindful, but let’s be honest – it’s no panacea. I know plenty of yogis, including myself, who seem glued to their phones. For some, social media has become a primary means of self-promotion and income, and that’s ok too.
It’s just that we need to remember that life existed before the advent of our 24/7 online culture; and that there’s a time and place for everything: time for being online and time for NOT.