iStock_000021353167LargeGuest blogger Phillip Twyford encourages us all to put the phones and tablets aside, and take time to connect with the people around us.

You don’t want to miss out on the joyful sound of children singing, or opportunities to connect with family and friends, or the heartwarming feeling you get when your kids or grandkids smile at you. But you will…unless you put your devices down and pay attention. If you’re constantly looking at a screen, you’re missing out on your life. And that’s a real shame. Because while few people would say their devices are more important than the people around them, too many of us act like that’s the case.

Maybe a day will come when people stop talking to each other directly and communicate solely through technology. I won’t be around then, but the thought saddens me. I want my grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren to know what it’s like to be human—to use words, to enjoy seeing someone smile, and to smile back. Nothing replaces the power of an in-person connection.

Phillip Twyford, director of sales and marketing for Tico Mail Works, had the exact same realization, which he outlines in this week’s guest post. Here’s his take:

“It struck me today at lunch just how quiet the kitchen was. There were five of us all huddled together, with a variety of different sandwiches and salads adorning the table. And guess what? We were all looking at our phone screens, flicking and tapping randomly and furiously, laughing and in our own little bubbles.

Tonight I changed a habit. While having dinner, instead of reading the Journal or checking out what was happening on Facebook, I turned the phone off, left the tablet in my bag, and watched and listened as my two kids laughed and sang along to the film Frozen. My little girl, in particular, loves this movie and wants to be Elsa. So as soon as the song ‘Let It Go’ came on, she started to sing without prompting. She saw me looking at her in pure daddy awe and smiling that proud, ‘that’s my little girl’ smile, and she gave me a little wave as if to say, ‘Thanks for listening to me, Daddy.’

Had I been engrossed in my phone, I would have missed that moment of innate connection between us, where no words were spoken, but my face and body language expressed hundreds of words, emotions, love, and pride.

Keep Technology in Check

Don’t get me wrong: I think the strides we have made in technology are incredible. I love social media marketing so much that I recently earned a degree in digital marketing, and Facebook and Twitter have allowed me to stay in contact with great friends who are now spread out across the globe.

But I think we need to—just now and then—take a moment to ensure we are controlling our technology, not the other way around.

I first started in marketing in 1987. I was 16 years old and working in Arnotts department store as a sales assistant. Social media was not part of our lives, nor were cell phones. I was thrust into the world of face-to-face conversation and having to talk to people I did not know. I had strangers come up, look me in the eye, and ask me to help them find the right shirt, jeans, or suit. After all, I had the white shirt and tie on, so I was the expert in their eyes.

When these people had questions, I could not text, email, tweet, or Facebook them the answer. I had to communicate with them—both verbally and with body language—to find out what they needed, solve their problems, and ultimately create rapport.

The Lost Art of Conversation

As business and technology have evolved, we spend less time talking to each other in person and rely on technology to engage others. Just think about how many face-to-face meetings you now have with clients. I have clients with whom I have spoken on the phone or exchanged emails, but have never met in person, even though I have tried to get that face-to-face meeting. Everyone is just too busy, it would seem.

I recently came across a great article entitled ‘Saving the Lost Art of Conversation’ by Megan Garber of The Atlantic. Garber recounts her interview with Sherry Turkle, a hugely respected psychologist and MIT professor who was working on a new book called Reclaiming Conversation.

Turkle’s research shows that we’re talking all the time—in person as well as in texts, via emails, over the phone, on Facebook, and on Twitter. In many ways, the world is more talkative than it’s ever been, but Turkle says all of this talk can come at the expense of conversation. We’re talking at each other rather than to each other.

I don’t want to sound hypocritical. I know I am using technology to share this post with you, and I love all the technological advances that are coming down the line—such as wearable technology and near-field communication. But let’s not forget we are social and tactile creatures, and I hope human interaction and face-to-face conversation will not die.

I think back to when I was a teenager at the disco and saw a girl I fancied. I remember all the excitement, followed by utter terror and then elation, when—after hours of making eye contact and finally plucking up the courage to ask her to dance—she said yes. Oh, the joy…and then the fear as I realized I can’t dance!!! That whole scenario obviously would have been completely different and not nearly as emotionally charged or exciting if done by text or tweet.

So I challenge you, as I will be challenging myself each day, to put the phone and tablet down a little more than you do right now and let your other senses do the conversing. Remember you control the technology. Don’t let it control you.”

A longer version of this article was originally posted on LinkedIn Publisher under the title, “Are We Losing the Art of Conversation?

PTAbout the Author

Phillip Twyford is a marketing expert and author of the blog “From Direct to Digital: It’s All About Marketing.” He has worked in two of Ireland’s leading direct marketing agencies, managing clients such as AIB, GE, Aviva, and Guinness, and winning various direct marketing awards. Then he became director of sales and marketing for Tico Mail Works, where he created an award-winning new business acquisition mailing for the company on the proverbial shoe string budget.