Friday, July 18, 2014

Air Blog: The Cobesity Epidemic and my Digital Diet

I am writing this blog from 30+ thousand feet in the air, on my way back to Singapore from San Fransisco. Just minutes before I took off I read the horrifying news about MH 17 shot down over Ukraine with 298 onboard who died. May their souls rest in peace.

I guess it is a little morbid to be sitting on a plane right after one just went down somewhere else on the planet. I remember when I was in NYC on Sept 11, 2001 headed to work when the planes hit. The rumors were rampant on the streets as we scrambled to find a safe place. What building would be targeted next? Empire State? Chrysler? Grand Central? So where would you hide from bad things that could happen to you? Honestly, the only thing to do, is to get on with it. Go to work, go to a bar. Get on a plane.

Speaking of hiding, I just spend the last night of my trip camping, or more specifically, glamping several hours outside of San Fransisco with my new team members. Glamping is glamorous camping, for those who don't know what that is (don't worry, i didn't either). We didn't have electricity in the tents so we had to use flashlights. But strangely. we did have wireless access. Yes, wireless. And now I am sitting on a plane, with, you guessed it, wireless access. Connectivity. Which begs the question: is connectivity the most important invention on earth, even more essential than electricity? And if you wanted to hide from too much connectivity, would that even be possible? 

Earlier this week, I attended a company event where we had 2 excellent speakers Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone and Nir Eyal, Author of Hooked. Both talked about relationships and how social media can help stay connected with people you know. They also cautioned that the nature of relationships are changing because of technology, but not always in a good way. If checking your timeline or your email are the first things you do when you wake up or the last thing you do before you go to bed instead of kissing your loved ones "good night" or hopping out of bed to open the curtains, or like me, if you are connecting to the internet while camping or flying, then keep reading.

I think we are starting to see signs of our society becoming "cobese" - a term I just coined meaning suffering from connection obesity.
1. We gorge on devices - the smallest, fastest ones being the most fattening. And of course all the accessories: extra battery packs, headsets, blue tooth, blue tooth speakers, keypads, cables etc. And for some reason, we carry most of them around at the same time - phone, tablet, laptop. You know, just in case.
2. We binge on likes and links - we post and check back obsessively to see how many likes we got. We think we can just click on one link, read only one article, only to then retweet that link, end up in our timeline, read something else. Minutes turn into hours and oh, the gym is closed now so you can't go. Darn. At least I put on my sneakers and "tried". 
3. We horde free internet access - just like how people sometimes go to town the office supply cabinet, pantry or the hotel shampoos/conditioners or the free samples of...well, anything. Oh and people how buy one cup of coffee and hang out at the "good" table in a coffee shop for hours, that is just bad karma.
4. We love handles - (oh that was a good one!) There used to be a time that I was introduced to people by their names and their parent's names. I would know their phone numbers. Now I just know them by their twitter handle and hashtag. "Hey, @VirginiaSharma, aren't you #bandragirl? We should totally hangout #justsayin"
5. We load up on "click" carbs - the pursuit of capturing everything on your phone or tablet camera to share or look at later vs. enjoying the moment, smell, sight, sound.  This is only made worse with awesome filters we now use to "edit" the actual picture we take before posting so you don't even remember what the real thing looked like, let alone, how you felt when you saw it. At the rate we are going, we are going to lose our sense of smell, taste and sound because as long as you can touch your phone and see the picture you took, you don't need a balanced palate of senses!

If you are afflicted with at least 3 of these above you are at least "coverweight" (connectivity overweight) and it may be time to get on a digital detox and diet.  Here are my top five tips to get started:

1. No work email on your primary phone. This was something I started a year ago when I moved back to New York. What this means is that my phone is purely for personal use. Everyone at work knew to text me or call if it was important but that after hours I would only check email if someone asked me to via text. Otherwise I'm closed for business. This also means I cannot check work email before I go to bed or until I get into work the next morning.

2. Be device free for one hour a day and be email free one day a week. This would be the one hour where I would go for a run, walk or swim. I keep a separate device for my music vs having my music on my phone so there is no temptation to take a call while running. And pick a weekend day when you do not check or at a minimum do not respond to any email. I choose Saturdays. After a while, everyone becomes conditioned to not hearing from you. And they appreciate it!

3. Set a timer on your wireless router. This is a tip shared by Nir Eyal. He set a timer for 10:30pm to automatically switch off wireless in the house at 10:30pm till 6:30am. He said if needed, he can reboot it but it takes effort. This means everyone in the house focuses on their good nights vs. their timelines.

4. No laptop on your vacation. No matter who you are, the world gets on fine without you. You MUST believe this. If you are a people manager, there is nothing worse than being a working vacationer. It puts undue pressure on your team to also work when they are on vacation. So don't be a bad manager by being a bad role model. PS Tablets are ok because you may need them as a phone or for the ibook guides which are cool.

5. Don't date your phone. This means do not eat with your phone next to you. Do not walk in the park with your attention on the phone. No phone calls while walking around the city.  Do not take selfies with you and your phone in the mirror. And absolutely no impulse shopping for phone jewellery and accessories. Being smitten by your phone is just sad, not cute.

So in the spirit of practicing what I preach, I am going to get offline and read my book. Good luck with our digital detox and diet and do share your ideas and progress! 


  1. Smart Phones are lately producing not so smart generation..... those who are phsically present but mentally absent in the globe , just seeing , texting and updating status and missing every other thing beautifuly existing on our motner earth, that whispering birds that mistifying flowers that sound breeze and that midas touch of godliness in between every happening

  2. Cannot agree more with you. Quite liked the new word you coined 'Cobese'! aptly highlights the predicament we are in today. I even saw a new version of Maslow's hierarchy needs with WIFI at the the bottom of the pyramid!