It might sound weird that the “pitch man” for an innovative technology company looks forward to being disconnected from technology once he leaves work, especially on vacations. But it’s true. It’s not a new thought – like others have opined, technology is a double-edged sword. With the good, comes the bad.
When I played ‘Number Crunchers’ back in elementary school on one of Apple’s first “desktop” machines, I never imagined the world of computers, and now mobile devices, to evolve as they did. Devices have gotten smaller, yet more powerful and engaging. The wealth of information and data that we have access to is practically unlimited.
However, it seems to me, that as technology has improved, the human experience has deteriorated. We sit in the same room but couldn’t be any more disconnected from one another. Our faces are fixated on screens and we feel uncomfortable when we don’t have the familiar distraction of a phone, and need to interact with people or simply sit somewhere without engaging our devices. What happened to enjoying our surroundings and living in the moment?
Now, don’t get me wrong. As someone categorized as a millennial, social platforms like Facebook were game changers and had a major impact on my life. But, even though the goal was to connect us, Facebook has made it easier to avoid meaningful interactions. That would involve actually talking to people to find out what’s going on with their lives. Their real lives.
While I advocate in-person interactions and disconnecting from our devices to take in the world around us, I’m still a tech enthusiast and will always be one. To me, the best kinds of technology cause just enough disruption to fix our pain points, while helping us maintain the things which are working. In terms of this, Uber has got things right.
Uber has managed to make the “human experience” front and centre, while technology is doing the heavy lifting in the background. When I want a cab, I launch the app on my phone and I know right away when my driver will arrive – a huge pain point when calling a taxi or hailing one in my previous experiences. Once I get into the Uber-hailed vehicle, I put away my phone and just enjoy the experience. I even know the name of the driver when I get in, creating an easy icebreaker for conversation if I choose (which I do). When I exit the cab, payment is already taken care of and I can move on to the next part of my day without fumbling for change. It’s so simple and I get to disconnect from technology during my ride.
Whenever I’m on vacation and I disconnect, it’s an interesting feeling. I go from feeling anxious, to not being able to adhere to my strict following of “Inbox Zero”, to extreme relief within a few days, when I stop looking at my phone. It’s not easy to disconnect. Similar to any other habit, it has to be practiced and strictly enforced over a period of time. But I’ve managed to transition from being a screen-watcher to a live in the moment kind of guy.
My advice for anyone looking to disconnect? Only look at your phone and screens when you absolutely need to. Do it if you need to work on research, send off emails or create a presentation. But when you have an opportunity to connect with one of the many billions of people that share this planet with you, put down your phone and take that opportunity. My wife recently did this while waiting for her flight at an airport, and that led to us getting a backstage meet and greet with Stevie Wonder!
At the end of the day, our lives will essentially come down to a summation of our experiences and relationships with other people. When I look back years from now, when our startup Lucova has hopefully become a common platform used by companies like McDonald’s or Sephora to drive a “human-focused” experience, I will not remember with fondness the late nights in front of a screen working on a presentation or shooting off emails. But what I will remember are “quiz breaks” or Friday lunches with the group of people who came together to make a change in the world through human-centric technology. I will look back with fondness when I was able to engage with them in person as I learned about what drove them, what scared them or just how their day was.
Technology was meant and should be used to help drive the human experience. Let’s keep it that way.
Ara Ehamparam is the Director of Business Development at Lucova Inc.