Shining offline

Richard Martin




Mobile phones are a truly extraordinary bit of kit.  

My mum was a computer programmer who started working in the 1960s when a kilobyte of memory required a computer the size of a small office building.  When I started work, which I assure my children was not so very long ago, very few people had mobile phones and those that did required a briefcase to carry them around.  Nowadays we are connected to the entire world 24/7 with seemingly unlimited processing and networking opportunities constantly available to us.  That technological change, and with it the change in the way we work, spend our leisure time, connect with each other, stay in touch with people and news, has revolutionised our lives - our way of living would have been unimaginable to most of us even 30 years ago.  And a massive chunk of that is down to that bit of kit, that tool, in your pocket or bag (or more likely in your hand or on your desk) - and of course, many people now have more than one.

Research on how much time we spend on our phones varies.  A report from the US in December last year suggested the average American checks their phone every 10 to 12 minutes.  Apps will soon be available (if not already) to measure just how often we check our phones and how much time we spend "on" them.  Of course, that will vary significantly - people who download podcasts or who catch up on TV on their phones may well spend more time than others, and then there are the tweeters and news addicts, or people gaming.   The general view is that on average we are spending several hours a day looking at our phones.  As the extent to which we can manage our lives from our phones - banking, shopping, dating, the lighting in our homes, and lots more - increases, so our phone time will increase with it.

What is also striking from much of the research is that we tend to massively under estimate the time we spend on our phones and the number of times we check them - we don't even know we are doing it.  On trains, at bus stops, in the middle of meetings, during my training sessions even (!) and, most recently observed by me, standing having a pee at a urinal, there does not seem to be anywhere where we are not checking in in some way or other.  One might question whether, at some level, our phones are controlling us.

Don't get me wrong, I love my phone, and am in awe of what it enables me to do, and I probably only use half its capability.  What surprises/terrifies me about all this is that although we have this incredibly powerful tool, and are encouraged by everything around us, including our employer, to use it, none of us have ever been taught how to use it.  I don't mean where the on button is, or how to send a text - the technology is so user friendly and instinctive that you hardly need to be told.  What I mean is our relationship with it - how to use it safely.  With any other tool so powerful and so capable of absorbing so much of our time and energy we would get guidance on its use - I mean we get assessed for, and told how to use, the chairs we sit on at work for goodness' sake.  Why not our phones?

In training sessions our phones regularly come up as being a key cause of stress and our inability to switch off.  They also get in the way of conversation and relationships, prevent us being able to focus on other tasks, or relax, and stop us sleeping properly. 

So what to do?  Thankfully help is at hand as they say.

We have recently teamed up with Shine Offline who help train individuals and organisations how to take back that control we seem to have lost - to better understand and manage our relationship with our phones and our lives online.  We are holding an open session to showcase their work at our WeWork offices in Moorgate on 31st October at 9am.  Booking details are here.  Come along - it is free, will give you some quality time off line and may just change your life - at the very least it will make you think a bit!