Of all the commencement advice we’ve heard this college graduation season, some of the best words of wisdom comes from none other than Google chairman Eric Schmidt.
In his commencement speech last week at Boston University, Schmidt urged students to unplug at least one hour a day.
“Take one hour a day and turn that thing off. Take your eyes off that screen and look into the eyes of the person you love. Have a conversation, a real conversation.”
Schmidt gave a nod to technological advances that have made us better connected – technologically – than ever before. He urged the new graduates to “harness the power,” but also reminded them, “The digital ties that bind our humanity together are not possible without technology, but it’s also not possible without you, without a heart.”
More and more employers are encouraging their employees to unplug from technology.
Does being plugged in 24/7 make for a better employee?
Not necessarily. According to Time.com, employers are encouraging their employees to find a better work-life balance by taking a break from being constantly connected.
In a recent article, “Why Companies Should Force Employees to Unplug,” the online news magazine cited companies ranging from Atos and Duetsche Telekom to Google and Volkswagen, which have recently adopted measures to get their employees to unplug from technology. Volkswagen, for example, deactivates emails on German staff BlackBerries during non-office hours and limits the transmission of work-related emails during non-work hours. Google famously insists its employees unplug for portions of their workweek, the better to stir creative juices.
But employers are motivated by more than altruism, says Time. The news magazine noted a 2009 Stanford University study, which found that people who are constantly exposed to electronic information don’t pay attention as well or switch from task to task as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time.
“There’s no priority structure. Everything is urgent. Everything is red flagged,” Nancy Rothbard, a Wharton management professor, told Time.com. As a result, activities that require a great deal of focus — like decision making or writing — get short shrift.
The ability to focus is not all that suffers from our constant connection to technology. Time.com cited numerous studies showing that psychological detachment is important to employees’ health and well being, as well as stress reduction. This well being, in turn, translates to fewer sick days and lower healthcare costs for employers.
Another study by the Harvard Business School found that study participants who were encouraged to engage in regular downtime while carrying out a high-pressure project reported greater job satisfaction, were more likely to envision a long-term career with their firm, and experienced a better work-life balance than those who did not participate in the study.
These are all compelling reasons employees to unplug and reconnect — and for their employers to support them while they’re doing it.
Unplug and Reconnect is introducing a new app for the Android that uses technology to schedule a break from technology. It “silences” your phone for a predetermined period and lets your friends know that you are temporarily unplugging from the virtual or technical world and reconnecting with real life. Once unplugging time is over, the app restores your phone to its prior settings.
“The new Unplug and Reconnect app, like no other app available on the Android market, makes it easy to schedule a ‘phone vacation’ or an unplugging and reconnecting event anytime you want,” said Dr. Joseph Geliebter, founder and CEO of Unplug and Reconnect, an organization dedicated to educating people about the importance of unplugging from technology and reconnecting with the people and events that are meaningful to them.
With the new app – which is available free of charge and free of any advertising –Android users can:
Schedule unplugging time in advance. At the scheduled time, your smartphone will switch to silent, vibrate, call reject or airplane mode, depending on your selection.
Generate an automatic text message when the phone is in “call reject” mode – such as “I’m taking ‘me’ time” – so anyone calling your phone will know you’re taking a break from technology.
Automatically post status updates to Facebook and Twitter, should you choose to tell your friends how you’re spending your unplugging time and the duration of the break.
Stop worrying about forgetting to reset your phone to ring mode after unplugging time is over – the new app automatically does it for you.
Get instant reminders of upcoming breaks from technology that you have scheduled.
Feedback from test users indicates that several innovative features make the new app especially useful. Testers particularly liked the app feature that restores phone alert settings once an unplugging session has ended.
When my sons were young, they couldn’t get enough of the now-classic video called “Road Construction.” The award-winning 1991 video by Fred Levine features 30 minutes of non-stop road-building action – from site surveys to demolition to the first car traveling down a finished highway.
This was the “state-of-the-art” addictive technology back in the early 1990s. My sons spent hours glued to watching this VHS and were most thrilled to see the construction video played backwards in rewind mode — something that has been lost in today’s ‘advanced’ digital technology age.
Leo, the building inspector for my village, knows a thing or two about Unplugging and Reconnecting. An Italian immigrant, he grew up in the Italian wine country, where he experienced a simpler way of life.
I met Leo during a road repaving project on my block. When I told him about how the road construction project was forcing neighbors to live a simpler life, albeit only briefly, he immediately appreciated how the benefits might possibly outweigh the inconveniences of having our street inaccessible for a few days.
Leo believes that, like water that flows from the freshest of mountain springs, we’re born to simplicity. The further water flows from its source, the more polluted it becomes. The same is true of our lives, he says. How we choose to maintain the simplicity to which we’re born is up to us.
As might be expected, food – especially savoring a good meal – is very important to Leo and his family. That’s why meal time is Unplug and Reconnect time in Leo’s house.
“We don’t use any technology while we’re eating,” he says. This rule also applies to Leo’s six grandchildren who, he admits, are as attached to their technological gadgets as any of their generation. “We hold onto the old ways at meal times. That’s when we discuss family matters.
Once, Leo and his wife were dining out in a restaurant and noticed a couple at the next table. They were “parallel texting” on their cell phones, Leo said. “My wife pointed out to me, ‘I don’t think they’re enjoying the food – their minds are set on whatever they’re texting.’ ”
It’s true. In order to truly enjoy food – to savor a meal or a good wine – one must devote a certain degree of attention and focus on the task. The same could be said about the way we choose to live our lives.
TOMORROW — Dr. Geliebter remembers “Road Construction,” a video classic.