Stand Tough When Technology Can Sweep You Away

Stand Tough When Technology Can Sweep You Away


Scene 1:  “How many devices do we have going?” my sister asked on Saturday as she scanned the five of us with what turned out to be 4 smart phones and one laptop.  “I can be as bad as anyone,” she added. “But this just doesn’t seem right.”

Scene 2: Fr. Gabriel, our visiting priest from Nigeria explained on Sunday how bizarre it was from his African perspective to visit the sick in Oakland and see so many cards, and letters from children and grandchildren, yet nobody visiting.  On our continent, he told us, this would not be considered loving.  Instead, family would be present to their sick.

Both comments shot through to me.

When technology can readily take us away from the here and now, it takes discipline to pay attention.  My staff, my kids, my students, my customers are not asking that much when they ask me to see their world through their eyes, rather than be engrossed in my virtual world through my eyes.  Technology can surely connect us to others in wonderful ways, yet it also stands to disconnect us from those we are most uniquely capable of working with – those right in our midst.

Beyond this invitation to personally stay present, I think those who lead have the added challenge of shaping the environment for their children, staffs and teams where people are invited, engaged, challenged, and encouraged to stay present, to keep focus, to be right here to

Lead with their best self!



  • Back in October 1971, an engineer (who I knew when we both went to a small high school in Upstate New York during the late 1950s) named Ray Tomlinson chose the ‘@’ symbol for email addresses and wrote software to send the first network email. Ray made it possible to swap messages between machines in different locations; between universities, across continents, and oceans.

    Today, email and texting are the way we exchange information…rather than between four eyes (face-to-face). Of course, the problem is we get too many emails in our inbox everyday. At the Class of 1959 High School ReUnion, I told Ray that I forgave him for all the email messages that I wade through everyday.

    The good thing about technology is that we can have many “loose ties” through social networks to keep in touch with people in our past and present. The bad thing is we spend way too much time with our smartphones, tablets and laptops which takes away from the quality time of physically being present with the important people in our lives.

  • At work, when I have regular staff meetings, meetings with individual staff, clients, etc., I never have my i-phone with me as I believe they deserve my full attention. As the CEO of a large non-profit, people don’t get that much of my time to begin with. Why would I make them feel that even when we do get to spend time together they have to compete for my attention?

  • I agree with both comments. I was in the Apple store yesterday learning how to sync my calendars on my I Phone and computer over I Cloud. This already is saving me time to be more personally present. in this early phase of mobile technology, a lot of people spend too much of their time with their faces buried in their smart phones doing both trivial things and trying to learn to use them effectively, thus taking time away from personal connections. The technology has to free us and connect us personally. We had the same problem when the automobile became ubiquitous. Today, cars generally give people more time. When I was young we had to spend so much more time taking care of the car. It takes time and experience to adapt civilization changing devices like mobile tech need to the needs of human connectedness. It will all work out in time. I am an optimist. Human nature will shape it!

  • Steve,
    I like your optimism.
    You know as the great educational leader you are that “Human nature will shape it,” but “It shapes human nature, too.” There is a plasticity in our brains, and we are in a whole new world! I’m glad you are working to have your students engage with it.

  • It seems it can also reflect manners, or the lack of them. While many still find it rude to ignore or speak past the person in front of them, they see nothing wrong to texting. Sometimes even pausing in mid sentence to get the text sent.

  • Courtesy, Manners, and/or Respect

    Using “devices” is really a courtesy issue.

    I think a courtesy reminder rule should be, would we feel comfortable whipping out and using:
    1. A cordless razor for a close shave
    2. Fingernail clippers for general grooming

    Or physically:
    1. Turning around and facing the opposite direction
    2. Plugging ears with index fingers while simultaneously closing eyes

    Ok in some instances multi-tasking- devices and people may be necessary, however “serious communication of value” can’t be multitasked.

    My 2 greatest “tech peeves” are:
    1. The device in church- C’mon unless your texting “JC” (and he texts back)
    2. The social network “stay @ home mum”- if you are staying home to enrich your families life, do so by all means. DEVOTE your resources to the task at hand.

    I think each of us must compartmentalize our lives to a degree. Find a time based on priority for a no fly zone with respect to technology. Eliminate any and all distractions for a designated time or place to fully engage humanity. Then re-log in and go back to business as usual.

    • “Dugmuntz” and Di,
      I agree with both of you that this is a fundamental issue of respect and courtesy. And/but, if you are around my age (mid 50s) you were raised in a culture where those words were used a million times. I’m not wringing my hands in woe-is-me-fashion, but I just don’t think courtesy is taught the same way or with the same frequency. So Dugmuntz, your examples are wonderful teaching tools; they are powrful.
      And the greatest teaching tool is modeling the way. I’ve got to deal with my own lack of courtesy first!
      Thanks for adding to the discussion with your thoughts,

  • Loved this article, as a mother of two teenagers, I can relate. I was given the challenge to find out what Matthew McConaughey’s response was to it? I have search this site to no avail. I was hoping you could point me in the right direction for that information?? I bought your book and loved it, plan to put what I took from it to practical use. Thank you for your time.

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