Nell Minow
Corporate Governance expert, 'Movie Mom'

Nell Minow

Editor of The Corporate Library, and 'Movie Mom' for and radio stations across the country.


Hit the 'off' button

Q: We've got Blackberries. And iPhones and Droids and notebook computers and Google. They help make us more successful! Don't they?? The new book "The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains" says the Internet impairs our ability to think long and hard. Do you agree? And if so, does the added productivity justify a little Internet-inspired attention-deficit disorder?

Successful people must excel in separating the important from the urgent. And that has never been more important -- or more of a challenge -- than in this omni-connected age.

The benefits of being constantly plugged in seldom match the costs, however. The reason is that it is human nature to assume that the latest technology for being in touch is the most important. It may be a chemical thing; there is a seratonin surge from a buzzing Blackberry that for some reason we do not get from in-person interaction. So, we somehow find it acceptable to interrupt a real-life, in-person conversation to respond to an email, usually without even an "Excuse me." There's a reason they call them "crackberries."

Our sense of what is appropriate has become so distorted that a colleague recently told me she was amazed -- and disappointed! -- when a high-ranking official she met with did not get interrupted once with a call or email. She assumed he must be out of the loop. I explained that he was demonstrating to her that he considered their meeting important enough that he wanted to give her his full attention. This had not occurred to her.

I assume that anyone who interrupts a meeting or phone call or meal with me to check a Blackberry has other priorities and thus may not be right for whatever project we are supposed to be discussing. Of course there are exceptions, but the constant reflexive checking of devices is counter-productive. Worst of all is the way we cut off the most important opportunities for family time by giving children and teenagers DVD players and headphones for car rides, family dinners, and in their bedrooms, isolating people under the same roof.

This is a problem at all levels of our society. It is not just employees and managers; those outside the workforce like full-time parents and teenagers, even middle-schoolers get captivated and then captured by their devices. They often prevent or subvert communication more than they support it.

This kind of fractured interaction perpetuates by temporarily rewarding a shorter and shorter-term mindset, the same problem that keeps us from addressing large, complex problems through prevention rather than crisis mode. I recommend that everyone put all media away during meetings and meals and take an unplugged break for a day or so every couple of weeks. Believe me, the urgent will still be there when you get back, but your opportunity to consider the important will help you handle it better.

By Nell Minow  |  July 21, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  Technology and success Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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