Beware The “Crack Berry”

I was just speaking at the annual HR Summit in Singapore. They wanted to know first if I had been in New York in the last 7 days. Fortunately I hadn’t, or I may not have been allowed in! A speaker from California was canceled in the hysteria over Swine Flu. Nothing we know about it suggests that someone generally living in California or New York is a risk! The sheer size and scale of the places, and the total number of outbreaks, makes it absurd. I noticed we had to ride six escalators to get to the presentation floor as the Convention Center claimed their elevators were out of order. Rubbish! Singapore is a gleaming, technologically proficient marvel. They chose not to run them, due to the fear of enclosed spaces. Gosh guys, if you’re canceling people for just living in California, just say why the elevators aren’t running.  The elevator idea may be a good precaution.

I read a comment some time back that if you had to vote for the three words most critical to life as we know it, it would be a coin toss between “love thy neighbor” and “wash your hands”. The first if achieved would transform civilization. The second if adhered to, might keep us alive long enough to attempt to. If we essentially follow the latter, we should make it through the current situation just fine.

Anyway, at one point in my presentation, I asked if people ever had to present in their company to senior leaders, where the leaders received them from behind a bank of laptops, checking emails, occasionally texting on their “Crack Berries” (my name for the Blackberry addicted), often oblivious to what they were saying. Virtually everyone nodded emphatically. If there’s a greater way to show disrespect for a presenter, I can’t imagine what it would be. If there’s a better way to kill passion in people for the work they’ve done, or for the recommendation they’re making and which you may want them to implement, I don’t know what it would be. If it’s not important enough to pay attention to or attend to, why gather people simply so you can ignore both it and them?

And this addiction continues into our family lives. At dinners, you’ll sometimes see whole families feverishly fiddling with their electronic device of choice…as if they were transmitting information critical for safeguarding nuclear launch codes, or making a decisive input relative to Middle Eastern peace, or calming the markets with some sage analysis. The truth is far more banal, which makes this reflexive behavior both vexing and sad. The casualty is the conversation, the relationship, the community.

The Blackberry, the IPhone, and all their kith and kin, can be wonderful enablers. But let’s give people the gift of attention if we’ve opted to spend time together, professionally or personally.

And then we can add one more set of three words to the earlier two. “Be here now.” It is what being “present” means.

Mindful awareness of the people we’re with and the situation we’re in, makes so much else both valuable, and possible.  Those who are present in this way, will notice things, hear nuances, pick up gradations that the tech-obsessed are blind to. Accordingly they’ll build personal brands for exceptional perspicacity, and demonstrate levels of alertness and corresponding insight that will seem to endow them with superhuman powers.

In truth though, it’s not superhuman at all. It’s human. And sometimes today, being an awake human being is miracle enough.