Google Leader: Unplug & Reconnect

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.”

We at Unplug & Reconnect couldn’t agree more.

New Jersey Town Bans Texting While Walking

A New Jersey town’s recent ban on texting while walking has captured our attention. Fort Lee, N.J., police will soon begin issuing $85 jaywalking tickets to pedestrians who are spotted texting while walking, according to ABC News.

The decision to ban texting was not a spontaneous one, but rather a legislative reaction to a string of three fatal accidents, all involving pedestrians who were texting while walking.

While some Fort Lee residents are upset with the ban, we think it’s a good way to highlight the dangers of texting while walking – or driving, for that matter.

The ABC News story points to a study by Stony Brook University in New York, which found that texters are 60 percent more likely to veer off course than non-texters, because the act of texting alters their gait when walking. The study also showed that texting interferes with memory.

“We want to raise awareness that a real disruption occurs because of texting,” Eric Lamberg, co-author of the study, told ABC News. “Texting disrupts your ability much more than does talking.”

When Friends’ Postings Surprise or Shock Us

Have you ever been surprised or even horrified by one of your friend’s Facebook postings about politics?

If so, you’re not alone.  According to the Pew Internet & American Life project, 73% of social networking site (SNS) users “only sometimes” agree or never agree with their friends’ political postings.

And while they may disagree with their friends, a 68% majority keeps quiet about it. Further, some 38% of SNS users said they have discovered through a friend’s posts that his or her political beliefs differed from their own.

In its survey, completed in February 2012, the Pew project also found that 80% of adults use the Internet and 66% use social networking sites. In addition, Pew reported that 75% of SNS users say their friends post at least some content related to politics and 37% of SNS users themselves post political material at least occasionally.

The survey “shows that many friendships are not centered on political discussion and that many networks are not built with ideological compatibility as a core organizing principle,” according to Pew.

However, while most friends are willing to look the other way with respect to their friends’ postings, some 18% of SNS site users said they have blocked, unfriended or hidden someone for posting something they disagreed with or found offensive.

Banishing Rude Behavior on the Internet

Has the Internet brought out the rudeness in people? According to one Christian Science Monitor opinion writer, the answer is decidedly yes.

“We’re rude and crass and unthinking on the Internet for the same reason it’s easier to blow up people when you’re piloting a drone from 6,000 miles away,” writes marketing expert and journalist Adam Hanft, who is also the coauthor of “The Dictionary of the Future.”

Think, says Hanft, of vicious comments to blogs posted by anonymous posters, trigger-happy senders of email missives, or the rise in cyberbullying by young Internet users.

Psychologists blame our poor online behavior on a condition called “moral disengagement.” Put simply – the further we are distanced from our actions, the easier it is to emotionally separate ourselves from those actions, Hanft notes.

Add to this the fact that electronic media opens the door wide to allow minor disturbances to creep into our lives and many of us are primed for a meltdown, says Hanft.

The author makes a call for the rest of us to call out boorish behavior in an effort to introduce social change, much in the way society no longer tolerates pejorative racial and ethnic epithets or inappropriate sexual comments.

“One way for Internet etiquette to become a new kind of normative activity [is] through the ostracism that comes from exhibiting embarrassing bad behavior,” argues Hanft.

He also suggests several technological interventions to help solve the rudeness problem by pointing out rude behavior before it occurs and asking us to reflect on our actions before we follow through.

One idea Hanft has would be to develop a “Write and Save” feature as part of an e-mail platform. Users could opt into the feature, which would hold emails for a set period of time before they were released. Another feature would deliver a pop-up message whenever one used an expletive in an email.

We think the author is onto something important. If you agree, vow to show better Internet etiquette today. Remember — every major societal change begins with the smallest of steps.

 

Why Companies Encourage Unplugging

Unplugging from Technology

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.