We are in year 25 of the great worldwide ‘let’s all have smartphones and see what happens’ experiment. (If the IBM ‘Simon’ launched in 1992 really was the first)

Carelessly, no experiment design or stopping rules were established; so we are all in the odd position of being simultaneously guinea–pig and researcher.

One trend is becoming very evident to me as the experiment hurtles on and subtly changes our brains and behaviour.  It is this. The adaptation to dealing (amazingly) with the ludicrous amounts of data conveyed via our devices, seems to be at the expense of dealing with a different sort of data: real-life, situational, experiential data.

Recently I’ve been lucky enough to participate in several interesting and creative Leadership Training sessions. I’ve seen this play out in full view.

In numerous different role-play scenarios, the same pattern has emerged.  Words have been taken at rational face value; while signals (data) from body, voice, mood, stance – even if at odds with the language – have been barely registered.

It’s as if the senior, experienced, impressive participants had become used to operating primarily as super-brains. Disembodied. Disconnected.

It’s a phenomenon that could do with a name.

James Joyce’s collection of stories ‘The Dubliners’ was published in 1914. The collection includes a story called ‘A Painful Case’. Joyce described the hero:

“Mr Duffy lived a short distance from his body”



Penny Hunt and Change Chemistry logo image

Splashed through the delighting deluge and made it to the café. We were all in the Truman Show that day – completely at the mercy of whatever the Christof / Ed Harris producer character felt like throwing at us with his machinery and hidden cameras.

Safe now with an espresso.

I’m seeing everything through the lens of technology at the moment. It’s because of a strange coincidence yesterday.Penny Hunt's drawing of cafe culture and the wisdom of effective listening

In this very café a heart-stopping drama unfolded. The beautiful girl of a couple of weeks ago (her interview went brilliantly by the way) appeared to have lost a child. Shock. Fear. Cries to curdle a cricket bat. Primeval cries.

But the loss wasn’t a child.

The loss was her ‘phone.

Has it happened to you recently? I mean – since the addiction really took hold?  I could see her point of view (lets talk about empathy another time).  My own experience, but days earlier, had been of a stricken sinking feeling on realizing that the ‘phone was on the kitchen table while I was at the ticket barrier. The wrong side,the commitment side. By the bottom of the escalator I had fast forwarded through the stages of grief – denial, anger, negotiation, intense sadness and then finally acceptance (Uncannily like the quick change of weather forms in the Truman show, come to think of it). Except the last stage still wasn’t real. Acceptance took longer. I felt naked and lost and cut off. Part of me, a very important part, was missing.

What is this all about?

In Philip Pullmans Dark Materials the characters’ daemons are physical representations of part of the soul. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dæmon_(His_Dark_Materials) There are now online quizzes where you can identify what animal form your daemon would take.

Clever Mr Pullman. So it turns out they’re not just animals but also fruits – apples and blackberrys.

This sense of loss is profound. Something really is happening to us, fast.

We now spend 1 in every 12 waking minutes online in the UK http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/brits-spend-one-in-12-waking-minutes-online-8863661.html.

The University of Maryland researched attachment to our devices as long ago as 2010 and heard from students asked to be without their phones for 24 hours phrases like ‘ most horrible experience in my life’, ‘lost part of myself’. 70% quit the study. http://theworldunplugged.wordpress.com

So while wonderful opportunities and connections and inventiveness are unfolding and made possible by our new daemons, we also develop the characteristics of addiction, and lose access to other parts of ourselves.

During my day of ‘phonelessness, I experienced the strange but dimly-remembered sensation of thoughts leading on to other thoughts, rather than being interrupted by the urgency of attractive new stuff on the ‘phone. I know I became more attentive to the people I saw that day, too. The listening, the conversation, the connecting, got richer and better.

In the café the drama was still full of energy, but gradually reaching that acceptance stage.  Our heroine was twitching but settling into her chair in a ‘that’s how it is’ way.

What are you going to do?” asked her companion
I guess we’ll just talk” she answered with the first laugh of the exchange.

So the listening and connecting began.