As I sat on a rustic wooden table at a small coastal retreat in Portugal, the rhythm of the crashing waves almost becoming a soundtrack to the intense conversations, I found myself reflecting on a topic that had been quietly eating away at me - our relationship with technology.
The evening was spent with fellow entrepreneurs, people who had successfully navigated the tumultuous waters of the tech industry and who now found themselves on the frontlines of the very digital age we helped create. As plates of food came and went, conversation moved from the predictable territories of business and innovation to a topic that was quietly unsettling - tech addiction.
With a quiet tone of curiosity, I tossed a simple question into the group, asking them to think about the longest continuous period they had recently gone without using the internet or looking at their phone. The sounds of laughter and easy chatter faded away as the weight of the question settled over the table. Heads bowed, as faces took on expressions of serious thought. That humility, the sudden reflection on our own habits, was palpable.
The responses began to filter in - a chorus of 'less than a day.' When I asked if they had actually gone an entire 24 hours continuously without screens or internet, the responses were a resounding 'no.' And when the conversation drifted towards a more specific question I asked about the last time they went to bed without looking at their phone, there was a stunned silence.
As we bravely stared down at our tech dependencies, it was clear that for all the concern we had for their children and their screen time, adults struggled with the same issues.
Some were quick to rationalise, arguing that they maintained healthy relationships with their devices. But there was a point I wanted to make, one that was less about shame and more about awareness of the side effects of tech addiction.
In my life, I've found myself living in two distinct modes.
The first I call primary mode. It is a state of hyper-alertness, a reactive mode where my mind is constantly scanning, processing, and triaging the world around me. This mode is not a choice; it's a survival instinct and one likely as a result of human evolution. In the digital world, this mode often translates to scanning my phone or laptop for new information, missed calls, unanswered messages, or emails.
Whether I check my device every hour, or every half an hour, this reactive mode is triggered. The simple act of picking up my phone disconnects me momentarily from whatever else I was doing, jolting me into this state of alertness.
The other is what I call secondary mode. It is one of proactivity. This is the mode in which I am most strategic, most insightful, most creative, and most myself. It's in this state that I can problem-solve, ideate, and innovate. It's where I find my inspiration.
Activities like yoga, long walks, showers, countryside drives, or simply cooking a meal or writing in a state of relaxed mindfulness, trigger this secondary mode. I've come to recognize these moments as those that yield the most value in life, both for myself and for others.
Reflecting on my waking hours, I've noticed an encouraging shift towards secondary mode. However, what concerns me is that as a society, we may be slipping deeper into the primary, reactive mode. Constantly reacting to stimuli, rarely taking the time to be proactive about our own lives. And while I used to take pleasure in blaming big tech platforms, I now feel it is on each of us to take ownership and responsibility for our own experience of life.
What I am beginning to realize is that the constant barrage of information I am faced with everyday - whether wanted or unwanted - is not just an external factor I have to deal with. It has a profound impact on how I experience my days, my relationships, and ultimately, my life.
While I navigate my way through this digital era, I have learned that it's crucial to take moments to disconnect and enter into my secondary, proactive mode. These are the moments where I can truly engage with my surroundings, come up with innovative ideas, and above all, understand myself a little better.
As I shared these thoughts with the group, the silence was a testament to the resonance of this truth. Perhaps it was the crashing waves, the rustic wooden table, or just the collective reflection of a group of entrepreneurs, but that evening we all left with a resolution to disconnect to connect. To consciously choose to be in our secondary mode a bit more, and our primary mode a bit less.