The Benefit of Being Present

Sometimes my boss asks me to attend events on her behalf when she is already booked or otherwise unavailable. I am always wiling to network with new groups and I enjoy learning, so when she asked me to go to a recent annual conference for a statewide association, I agreed. The particular session she highlighted sounded interesting and was pertinent to my job.

Early last Friday, I settled at a table in the hotel conference room with coffee and yogurt about ten minutes before the session. Others soon joined me and we exchanged the usual introductory chit chat. By the time the session started, the room was about three-quarters full of people doing exactly the same.

The speaker was excellent. His talk featured many “real-world” examples and included simple tips we could bring back to our jobs and start immediately. I am always grateful when speakers provide useful ideas which don’t require a huge budget or time to implement.

My seat at the edge of the room afforded me a clear view of most of the audience as well as the presenter. From my location, I could almost see the audience from the point of view of the speaker. What I saw disheartened me.

I expected to see alert faces, but instead I saw the tops of heads bowed down as the majority of people used their cell phones in their laps. One woman at the table next to me spent the entire session (45 minutes) emailing, texting or writing on her phone. A man at a table on the other side of the room was on Facebook for long stretches of time. I could tell because he was seated in front of a mirror and his phone was reflected over his shoulder in the image behind him.

Now, let me be clear. This was NOT a boring speaker. He was engaging, clearly an expert in his subject matter, and easy to understand. He was doing everything right.

The audience was not.

About half-way through the session, I realized he knew he had lost most of the audience. He began to single out those of us who were paying attention, maintaining eye contact with the faces he could see. I began to nod and smile frequently in an attempt to give him encouraging feedback. As a public speaker, I know how difficult it is to be in front of a group and sense none of the audience is “with you.” He continued on, but frustration was evident in his voice when someone’s cell phone rang at high volume towards the end of his talk. The culprit? Mr. Facebooker, who guiltily raced from the room as he answered the call.

These devices we rely on are wonderful. They connect us to friends and family around the world. In an instant, we are able to reach others during a time of need. We take photos and share them with elderly relatives who cannot visit in person. We can check our work email and our personal email, update social media, and order lunch all in the span of five minutes if we want.

But when we spend all our time looking down at our screens, we miss what is happening around us in the present. The woman who spent the entire conference session on her phone didn’t see the examples on the projector and didn’t hear the joke about the nurse. I know she didn’t hear it because she was the only person at her table who didn’t laugh and clap after the joke.

I’m not saying I have not been guilty of using my phone in what some might consider inappropriate settings such as a conference presentation or dinner with friends. Because I use my phone to help me manage the Personal Assistants I employ, there are times I need to respond to one of my employees instantly about their work shift. However, I make every effort to limit those interruptions and put my phone away so I can be present and attentive to whatever is happening around me. I can always check social media later when I have time to actually be social.

Yes, I know – it’s a novel concept, being social on social media. You should try it. Stop using “like” and start acting with intention. I did it. You can too.

There are many distractions in the world which make social connections difficult. Discretionary technology shouldn’t be one of them. Take the time to disengage from your device. You might be surprised to discover what you can connect with when you disconnect.


25 thoughts on “The Benefit of Being Present

  1. I hear ya’. As you know, I’ve been on a campaign to rebalance this in my own life. It amazing what happens when you don’t pick up the phone and you actually engage in real time. Since you wrote last year about not liking things and instead commenting, I’ve been trying to do that. It makes such a difference in how I experience Facebook.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You were on my mind as I was writing this! I am by no means perfect when it comes to ignoring the phone, but I am trying to do better. I actually don’t have difficulty ignoring the ring. It’s my text messaging I can’t ignore. That is how most of my PAs communicate with me so I need to check those frequently.

      Stopping the “like” was the best thing I did with regards to Facebook. It has almost been a year for me, and I will never go back to using it.Glad you are finding it helpful! Thanks for sharing your experience.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Your situation (being ready for communications from PAs) is much like what I deal with with kids. You need to keep the device on for those communications, which leaves the gate open for others. I caught your blog post just as I was sitting down to write mine on a related subject so I’m going to link to yours in my piece. Love the way you put things.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for linking back to my blog. The experiment we did was life-changing for me. As I read, I was thinking about that exact video, so I’m glad you included it, too.

    I feel for the speaker–I’ve been in his shoes. He will be grateful for those who took the time to listen and engage with him, to acknowledge his work and to be present. I’ve come to the conclusion that life goes by quickly enough as it is, and I simply want to live the breadth of what I’ve been given. As a result, I am constantly reevaluating my use of my devices. Thank you for this reminder to do so again.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, I’m glad you found our experiment beneficial too. Thank you for sharing your thoughts here. I hope you come to a point where you fit technology in where it needs to be, while still enjoying the world around you. I’m sure you are better at this than you give yourself credit for.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. After you posted about not hitting the “like” button and comment instead, I took you up on the challenge. It has changed how I use facebook and I have found it easy to slide by some things that didn’t need a comment rather than hitting the button. Really enjoyed your post and we absolutely need to be present where we are.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Two memories have been provoked by this post: firstly some of the last management meetings I sat through before retiring were round table – and I can recall one vividly where I and the chairperson were the only two not with ipads/tablets/mobile phones. My colleagues never made eye contact with any one through the meeting and was deeply dispirited. They did speak but never looked up from their technology. And these were senior managers – what happened to influencing people with your body language! The second circumstance was on a public bus on my way into the city of Hobart. We had crossed the Derwent River and were heading past Government House towards the Cenotaph. And there in the glorious morning sunshine was a blow up sculpture perhaps 10 stories high – this was a surprising feature as part of our mid winter Festival. I was the only one onthe bus who saw it – everyone else had eyes downcast. Yet it was such a wonderful and exciting spectacle. I thought of yelling out across the bus and then I realised the following clamour would reduce my own pleasure at this magnificent surprise. I despair that so many are missing so much.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for sharing those memories. One of the benefits of traveling to visit Tasmania last year was limited wi-fi access. I was forced to limit my screen time to hotel rooms or home base (my host parents’ house). It made me much more present and I enjoyed so much more.


  5. I was going to “Like” this, but I got distracted by that darn text.

    No!! Not true!

    I have enough time focusing on one thing without the phone in my hand or laptop open in front of me. This is a good reminder to stay in the moment. The questions your post pose for me: Are these people distracted because they think they can multitask effectively? Or because someone wants them to be there (work assignment) and they’re merely putting in their time? Or they’re simply undisciplined? Or thoughtlessly rude? Or something in between?

    Several personal experiences with this sadden me. For a variety of reasons.

    Sometimes, we need to stay connected. Most of the time, we need to remain in the moment. Life’s too short.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t have answers to all of your questions. I suspect some were there because someone told them they had to be there, like me. Maybe something emergent was happening back at the office and they really could not avoid it. Maybe they think they are better multitaskers than they are.There are studies which show most people do NOT multitask as well as they think they do.

      Either way, you are correct. Life IS too short, and I am happy to disconnect to connect from time to time.


  6. This topic has been a very uncomfortable one for me because I had plenty to learn about not just what is SOCIALLY acceptable, but honors and respects the ones we love the most. I am getting better. I am now on board with my husband in not having Facebook in our bedroom. Ever. That was hard for me because it took me a long time to see the error of my ways there, and it really hurt my husband. Thanks for the reminders.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for your honest comment. I live alone, and have not been involved in a serious relationship for 2 years. My last boyfriend did not live locally, and we were very good at being present with each other during the times we spent together in person. I don’t know how it would have worked out if we had continued. I am glad you are successful in your social media limits.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Tons of people I know use their phones & laptops to scroll through social media during class. I can tell it frustrates my professors, and I don’t understand why they do it when they’re paying SO much to take these courses–and their success depends on their listening.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I was an adjunct 15 years ago – before people brought laptops and phones into college classrooms. I know there are students who struggle with handwriting due to disability and the ability to type their notes is a useful accommodation. How do you permit that, without making it easy for students to surf social media sites? I’m not sure, but I’m glad I don’t have to manage that. Your question is valid, and I have asked it myself!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I surf and “like” a lot more since I moved to California from Massachusetts last year. I find Facebook to be kind of a lifeline to help me keep in touch with old friends. I’m visiting my old haunts in about a month, and I think my visit would be very different without social media. That’s been true for my teenage daughter too. She has some old friends who are still close, even though there is a continent and a 3-hr time difference between them. Social media made my move easier in almost all ways, including, surprisingly, making new friends here. I meet people and make friends online relatively easily, it almost feels like my superpower, especially considering how bad I have historically been at meeting people and socializing in real life. So I’m really conflicted about limiting my social media. But I recognize your points. Comments are much more meaningful than likes. But I find that likes do keep up a tenuous connection during lean times. A blogging friend of mine has been in the hospital recently, and it meant a lot to me that he still liked my posts, even soon after a pretty major surgery. I know he’ll be back to blogging and commenting soon, when he’s ready, but the likes kept me thinking of him.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can understand your point, and I agree social media is great for helping to maintain connections across the miles. I am actually very active on social media, but I limit when I engage. It works for me to be intentional about social media otherwise I find I’ve wasted time I can’t really afford to spare. People need to find a balance – and I think it is possible to be active on social media and still be present in the here and now.

      I hope your blogging friend is recovering well! Have a safe trip.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Do you ever get “intention fatigue”? Like “decision fatigue?” There are times when I feel like if I have to be “intentional” about every little thing in my life, my head is going to explode.


        • Not so much when it comes to social media. Actually, making the choice to be intentional on social media makes me more engaged. It focuses me and makes social media useful. I experience decision fatigue in my day-to-day life sometimes regarding my personal care. I am grateful for the program which allows me control over my personal assistants, however sometimes I don’t want to have to spend so much time meeting my basic needs. I didn’t really enjoy my two weeks in a rehab hospital earlier this year, but the one good thing was knowing that when I had to go to the bathroom all I had to do was push a button and someone would come to help me. I didn’t have to worry about when someone was scheduled, who would come in if they called in sick, who could be a backup if somebody had car trouble, or how much liquid I could have before someone would come to my house. I wonder if there is such a thing as “pee math fatigue?” If there is, I’ve had it!

          Liked by 1 person

  9. Great food for thought here. I like my phone for making calls and taking photos. Checking FB and everything else can wait until I intentionally sit down at a computer to get social on the media : ) All devices stay out of the bedroom unless I’m so ill that I think I may need to call someone. And nothing is more irritating than being invited out to eat and then the other person spends the entire time on a device instead of talking to me. It makes me wonder why they even wanted to leave the house.

    As for “likes” I still mix up hitting the buttons and leaving comments. I don’t like commenting on public posts, so some of those just get a like or a total pass by. I see your point though, and will give it further thought.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for such an insightful comment. My phone is my lifeline and never leaves my side. But I completely understand limiting use in the bedroom, but I can’t do that since I use my phone to manage my staff.

      If you try to limit your likes, please share your impression and experience!


  10. Such a relevant topic in today’s world. I watch children compete with technology for their parents’ attention. I see myself getting anxious because my phone so easily wastes my time, and I definitely don’t have time to waste.
    The perspective of you watching a room of distracted people really made a clear image. It seems like everyone is frustrated these days, perhaps because everyone feels the same way as the speaker you empathized with.
    This just encourages me more to focus on substantial activities (such as writing;) Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your comment. I know I waste too much time on my phone if I’m not careful. Since this experience happened, I’ve tried to be much more conscious of when I pull out my phone. I’m glad you are taking steps to be more intentional as well!

      Liked by 1 person

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