Yesterday I went to a meeting room and found myself alone - I was the first to arrive. One of my teammates arrived, then another. Both sat down and, without a word, became engrossed in their Blackberries. There were e-mails to check, missed calls to note, games to play.
I'll admit that I didn't engage them, either. When I was younger nerves would sometimes goad me into starting conversations that weren't comfortable. Now I make silence my friend on occasion and let others make the first move. This was one of those times.
The three of us sat in silence for about five minutes until the rest of the meeting attendees arrived.
I found it odd that the people you could be talking to were more enticing than the person who was right there in the room. I've had conversations with people who could not stop checking their e-mail while I spoke. It was all I could to do stop myself from calling them out on it. Perhaps I need to re-think that policy.
I'm a late adopter, but I'm not a Luddite. The electronic devices we've invented are fantastic. I'm very happy with the cell phone that I carry with me, even though it's old and functional, without bells and whistles. I have never wanted a Blackberry, and I hope I'm never forced to carry one. I don't want to be that connected.
I've evolved a new policy: Communicate in the most direct way possible. I don't call if I can talk face-to-face; I don't e-mail if I can call. Evolution has made our brains terrific pattern recognition machines with inputs from sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste. Thankfully I'm not using those last three in a business context much, but those first two are key. So much communication happens via facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice, and cues that we're not always aware of. Electronic communication filters too many of these out.
On the other hand, I had an experience this week that would have been hard to imagine at any other time of my life. I have a younger brother who passed away in 1995. One of his high school friends who moved away to Minnesota after graduation was looking for high school acquaintances on Facebook. She came across one high school mate's page that one of my sisters had posted to. She contacted my sister to ask what my brother was up to. It must have been a shock to hear that this young man has been gone for almost fourteen years, but the sympathetic response she sent back was touching. How would this have been possible without the Internet and Facebook?