Richard Alpert was the Boston born son a railroad executive who tuned in, and then dropped out at Harvard in the 1960s under the siren song of Timothy Leary and LSD. He was reinvented as Ram Dass and began to preach a transcendental mantra of “Be Here Now.” There were copies of that book in many a college dorm room in the 1970s as I experienced the sunset of the hippies and the rise of the Grim Professionals.
Nick Bilton wrote a essay in the New York Times about seeing the world through an iPhone as he snapped a shot of a Pacific sunset and realized he was staring at devices and not the world around him.
“Then, I stopped. Here I was, watching this magnificent sunset, and all I could do is peer at it through a tiny four-inch screen. “What’s wrong with me?” I thought. “I can’t seem to enjoy anything without trying to digitally capture it or spew it onto the Internet.”
There used to be plastic laundry baskets outside of the conference rooms at the Googleplex for people to park their phones and laptops so they could focus on the agenda and the meeting and not use the time to catch up on email and IM back and forth. I’ve been in meetings where CEOs have demanded PCs be closed and unless I am expected to present, I try to attend a meeting with nothing but a notebook and a pen.
Yet more and more I find myself in meetings, sitting attentively, watching people on their PCs, tapping away, half there, half not, enduring long pregnant pauses as the meeting turns into a strange communal exercise in “bowling alone together.”
Hang up people. Put down the fucking phone. Look up and watch what’s going on around you. You might pick up some important cues you’re missing. Be here now.