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In his 1989 book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey made an important distinction about our culture. After studying over 200 years of success literature dating back to 1776, he determined that around 1920 a significant shift occurred in the United States. Covey observed that we went from a culture founded on a character ethic, to one based on a personality ethic.
 

Covey defined the character ethic as one focused on “integrity, humility, fidelity, temperance, courage, justice, patience, industry, simplicity, modesty and the Golden Rule.” He then noted that the personality ethic was more about “personality, public image, attitudes, behaviors, skills and techniques that lubricate and manipulate the process of human interaction.”
 

It is easy to see the effect this shift had on society when we consider the rise to prominence of our movie stars, athletes and political leaders. These big personalities now dominate our culture. We all strive to be famous, act like they do, and make our mark on the world.
 
 

Our culture has continued to evolve . . . or perhaps devolve . . . since Covey made this distinction 30 years ago.
 

In 2004, I believe another dramatic shift occurred that has set us further adrift in America. We have become untethered from the character ethic and knowing who we are at our core and are perhaps one step closer to losing our way.
 

This latest shift ushered in a new era – the persona ethic, a culture based mainly on an image we try to portray and maintain on our social media sites as well as in real life. Sadly, we are no longer grounded in ourselves. Instead we strive to live our lives based on how we want to be perceived by others.
 

This new era was likely triggered by two key events – the start of Facebook in 2004, and the introduction of the iPhone in 2007. With those two inventions, selfie madness was born and being self-absorbed became an art form. Suddenly, life became about living from the outside in, rather than the inside out. We became more concerned about how the world perceives and judges us, than about who we are or want to be.
 

This is most evident in the meteoric rise of reality TV, YouTube stars, Instagram likes, our desire to go viral, our addiction to Facebook and our never-ending primping and posing for the next selfie.
 

It used to be that cameras always faced outward, taking a picture of the world or something we appreciated “out there.” Now all the cameras face inward, the world relegated to little more than a backdrop, with the camera lens centered upon us as we star of our own movie.
 

It is very hard to stop the advance of technology . . . or evolution . . . so there is little sense in trying or fighting against the current. But here is what I would advise – be ever more conscious and vigilant about your use of, and interaction with, technology. Technology is an amazing thing, and is very likely to be the thing that saves our species from extinction. Yet, I also believe it is the very thing that will ultimately steal from us the essence that makes us human. The more conscious we are about that, the more likely we are to maintain our humanness.
 

“Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end.”

– Henry David Thoreau
 

We will never see or experience the true beauty of the world around us by looking down at our smartphone or plugging our head with earbuds. That only leads to isolation, the very thing everyone is trying to escape as they seek a “like” on their chosen social media platform.
 

We are all starved for connection and intimacy, and rather than picking our heads up, making eye contact and saying hello, we go on an endless search for recognition and validation on the Internet. And regardless of how many “likes” we garner, they will never fill that hole in our soul. The chase will only leave us feeling hollow and wanting more, hungry to take another hit on the “like” crack pipe.
 

So here is a truly radical idea about how to obtain what we all truly seek.
 

Try having a conversation. You know, actually stop and talk to someone. As in face to face with words coming out of your mouth. I have read that vocalization is the new, hottest technology. In fact, scientists aren’t yet sure how our voice is actually produced. They say it is a very complicated process involving no less than 25 major parts of our body. Some are even calling it a miracle. 🙂
 

Why not give it a try and see what happens.
 

READ HOW THIS APPLIES TO YOUR BUSINESS here.

 

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Thirty years ago I was speeding north on a New Jersey interstate in my new Nissan 200SX. I don’t recall where I was coming from, or where I was going, but I do remember what happened that particular day.

 

As I zipped along in 5th gear, I passed a scene we only see on reality TV these days. A young woman, completely decked out in her beautiful, billowing white wedding dress, and a tall man in a tuxedo, were standing beside their car on the shoulder of the road. As I raced past I smiled, put my car into neutral, pulled over to the side of the road and then backed up to their car.

 

I got out and greeted them with a friendly “hello” and asked if they needed help, thinking that perhaps I could drop them off at the next exit or go to a gas station and get them a tow truck. It was a nice thought, but that wasn’t exactly in the cards.

 

I could understand what they were saying for the most part, but English was their second language. What I gathered was that it was their wedding day, the wedding was in 2 hours, the church was 45 minutes away, and their car was no longer working.

 

That changed my plans.

 

I told them that if they could fit into my little Nissan, I would happily take them to the church. While my car technically had 4 seats, it really only seated 2 comfortably. Nonetheless, we folded the big guy in the tux into the backseat, his knees practically touching his chin, and the fair princess in white climbed into the front seat. I swear the fluffiness of her dress filled the whole cabin of the car.

 

It was a fun drive to the church as I learned about their lives and their hopes for the future. It was a great day and I was happy to help out.

 

Fast forward to this past Wednesday.

 

It was dark. Probably 7:30 in the evening and I was just getting home from one of my clients. I turned left to go up a wooded, poorly lit, windy road when I saw some flares on the right side of the road near a broken down car. I shifted into 3rd gear, paused a moment as I wondered if they needed help, then pressed down on my gas pedal, and zipped past them. “Why bother?” I thought. “These days everyone has a cell phone and can call for help.”

 

Man did that suck and feel bad.

 

While smartphone technology is fantastic, and has certainly done amazing things for the way we live our lives, I do think it’s tearing at the fabric of community.

 

As if to accentuate that point, the next day I saw young mother walking with her newborn baby. They were both taking advantage of the amazing spring weather we’ve had recently. The baby was in a cute, little, navy blue stroller. The Mom was dressed in bright yellow and had both her hands on the handle as she pushed her baby. And in her hands, between the baby’s face and hers, was a black, big-screen smartphone. Nice bonding.

 

And we wonder why our children just want to get their hands on our electronics.

 

human connection 7Don’t get me wrong. Even though I don’t use much of it, I think technology is AMAZING. I love seeing all the fantastic things we can do with our new inventions. But what worries me most is that we aren’t engaging with it consciously. We are letting the technology rule our lives and it is leading to a distance between parents and children, between couples, between friends, between us humans. The divide is becoming more pronounced, and in its wake I fear is the death of community.

 

I believe you will have far more satisfaction in life by connecting with another human rather than connecting with your electronics. I encourage you to put them down and remember what it is like to make eye contact with someone you care about and be fully present to them.

 

Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end.

– Henry David Thoreau

 

A lot has been written about the problems and distractions created by our smartphones.

 

I’ve heard from teachers about how students find it harder to talk to each other or make eye contact. I’ve heard the horrible news stories about how someone was texting just before a car accident. I’ve been on numerous calls with friends and clients while they are driving when I hear them say, “Shoot, I just missed my exit.” We all have been with a friend or business colleague who was more focused on their smartphone than on us.

 

I’m wise enough to know we will never stop the advance of technology. But that same wisdom tells me that the 10 minutes of undivided attention and listening that I gift to someone may actually change their life.

 

In my opinion, that makes for a a very easy choice.

 

READ HOW THIS APPLIES TO YOUR BUSINESS here.

 

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Every morning after I wake, I spend time doing some yoga and stretching. I usually do this in silence, but lately I have left my radio on. It is tuned to a sports radio station, which means that the silence is now filled with a constant noise about nothing that is truly important in life.
 

silence

After a few days of this, I have just one thing to say, “Oh my God! Will you shut up already?!!” That constant yammering is annoying. I can’t hear myself think. Or breathe. Or be.
 

As long as that radio is playing in the background, my mind, soul and brain is busy listening to the broadcast and thinking about what is being said. It blocks everything else out . . . which I think is the purpose. For some reason, I probably don’t want to be with my silence or hear what my thoughts are. In a nutshell, I am in avoidance, with a desire to be distracted.
 

As usual, this got me thinking. This is bigger than just listening to the radio in the morning. What else is playing in the background of my life’s soundtrack, distracting me from my more important thoughts and feelings?
 

In thinking further about this, I realize this is exactly what has occurred in most everyone’s life today. We have all become so busy and distracted that we can no longer hear the answers we yearn for that lie just below the surface noise. Smart phones, iPads, texts, emails, phone calls, Facebook messages, YouTube, TV, tweets and more have created a society of distraction leaving us little or no time to hear the answers we seek in life . . . let alone understand the questions we are truly asking.
 

What would happen if you allowed yourself to sit with silence for just one day? What do you think you would hear? What answers would you suddenly realize? What questions would you ask? What clarity would suddenly find you? What peace might you find in your life?
 

I am pretty sure these are all gifts that lie in silence . . . if only we had the courage and discipline to give silence a chance.
 

Yes, the world is rapidly moving toward a culture of distraction and disruption, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t value in what once was. Some may think this is resisting the inevitable future. I think of it more as holding on to the wisdom of the past.
 
In the silence, I rediscover who I am.

– J. Francis

 
I am continually amazed by the number of people who seek out others to tell them the answers they already know. We know so much more than we give ourselves credit for. I think the real problem is that we just don’t listen closely enough to what we know and feel in our hearts.
 

The challenge is that the answers we seek in life lie in silence, for that is the only place we can hear their whispers. Which leaves just one question —
 
Do you have the courage to unplug and listen?
 

Welcome to the Culture of Distraction. This video beautifully demonstrates how smartphones have intruded into our lives and taken us away from being present.
 

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