Ted used to be the mayor of Nixon’s Coffeehouse. He didn’t work there, but he was always at the place, greeting people, making friends, connecting people. Sometimes Ted could be annoying, but he definitely had a presence that made Nixon’s feel like a welcoming, comfortable joint. Then something happened.
Ted got an iPhone. He started playing stupid games and downloading apps and just not really talking to anybody. For a while, some people liked it. Like I said, he was annoying sometimes. But after he got the phone, he was there, but he was just missing. He sat there playing his game like a chimp given a cheap toy in the zoo, dull and placidly entertained, but not engaging with anybody around him. He lost his position as the mayor because he no longer engaged with anybody.
I do a lot of work in coffee shops. Not always the most productive work, but sometimes the best stuff I come up with. Here’s the catch, I do it alone, without a phone or laptop or apps or tablet or any of that. Just me, a coffee, and pen and paper.
(How very hipster, I know.)
Maybe that’s why it took me a really long time to get a smartphone. Way too long, according to those who I had to text by scrolling through letters, one at a time. Mostly, I was too poor to buy one. But also, I didn’t want to lose my citizenship in the land of the living.
When you look around at people in coffee shops, at the store, driving (godhelpus) at restaurants, people are connected, but they’re not connecting. They’re missing IT by being somewhere else.
Creative people have been blessed with an eye for observation. Our job is to tell the story that people can’t articulate themselves. It’s our mission to share the story so the people feel like they’re there too. Unfortunately, what was meant to be a tool now supersedes everything we could be doing.
Our smartphones and other technology hinders us from connecting with the environment around us. We’re doing, but not seeing.
So here’s the challenge: Take yourself out to lunch, and don’t bring any technology. Notice the people and things around you.
How does the man across the room pick up his fork? How does he chew?
What is that gaggle of women laughing about, and why are they drinking at lunch?
How does the air feel on your skin? How does your corner of the world smell?
Engage with your waiter. Engage with your food.
If it feels weird, then you’ve been disconnected for way to long. Welcome back.
You might get an idea to write the next bestseller. You could also get new ideas for your business, or realize how to solve a problem, be inspired to create a social enterprise, or see a new way to market what you’re selling. You might also make friends who are right in front of you. Most of all, you’ll be connecting with life right here and now, and if the next big thing comes and sits right in front of you, you’ll actually see it.