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Disconnect to Reconnect

“Studies show that we check our mobile phones, on average, every 12 minutes” came the headline as I listened to the news in my London hotel room. I was attending an industry event in the capital and about to head to the hotel’s restaurant for breakfast. However, this worrying statistic prompted me to take my phone out of my bag and leave it behind; I’d go to breakfast without what seems to have become the digital version of a security blanket.

Grabbing a newspaper from the lobby, the first article caught my eye ‘Should mobile phones be banned for under 11s?’ As a mum of an 11-year-old son who has just started secondary school, this struck me as a ‘must read.’ Conversations with a number of parents told me that the unwritten school checklist in 2018 goes a bit like this: uniform, pencil case, water bottle, PE kit, smartphone. The first four I get, but smartphone? Why?

(Unless I want this to be a 5,000 word piece, I’ll have to save that topic for another time!)

SPARK THINKING Group of friends standing on table and everyone use his divices in modern office room. Together fun in device.

I chose a table for two which, it turned out, had already been occupied. When the lady returned to her seat, I did the very British thing of being apologetic and politely suggested that I move to another table. She was having none of it, so we engaged in conversation. What could have been a swift coffee and a bit of small talk turned into a 45 minute conversation over cold meats, cheese and rye bread.

Fully fuelled, I popped back to my room to collect a few essentials then waited for the lift to take me to the ground floor. I’ve noticed how people reach for their phones in situations like this – moments of down-time to scroll absent-mindedly through social media. Instead, I decided to strike up conversation with my lift companion who, as it turned out, was also another forum attendee. She needed to take a cab to the meeting venue and asked if I’d like to join her; I jumped in and so began an exchange of industry-related stories and general chat about our personal lives for the next 25 minutes.

Later that day during a panel session focused around technology, one of the panellists gave a proclamation: he had deleted his Facebook app, and his attitude towards social media had been transformed. Around 18 months ago, I too had deleted my Facebook app; I’d identified that everything about it was having a detrimental effect on my overall wellbeing. I still log onto the site from time to time; occasionally something interesting will catch my eye and I’ll engage with it, but I am no longer interrupted by notifications or spend my valuable time scrolling through endless posts at any given opportunity.

I believe that this distancing provides me with a more balanced approach to my social media self, and balance in any relationship is a good thing. The Royal Society for Public Health recently launched a new campaign called “Scroll free September” in direct response to a growing concern that social media is impacting our enjoyment of the moment and how it can contribute to rising mental health issues; the site provides tips on ways to combat this. What is perhaps surprising about this campaign is that I read of it in my son’s weekly magazine, which highlighted to me just how much of an issue this is for children. Perhaps if the unwritten school checklist didn’t contain ‘smartphone’, we wouldn’t have so much of a problem.

The forum had promised a productive and engaging agenda and it didn’t disappoint. The two days I spent in London were filled with one-one meetings, teambuilding, networking sessions, panel discussions and a gala dinner on our final evening. But it is the serendipitous moments that will stay with me: a continental breakfast with a Hungarian lady and a cab ride with an American. The stories that we shared across the breakfast table and in the taxi helped us connect and have since developed into business creations. The whole experience got me wondering…what if we encouraged ourselves to disconnect from our personal tech more often? It might just lead to something magical.