Airplane Mode

I recently had lunch with a dear friend whom I had not seen in a while. This friend has a job that places him in a position that is far more important to the organization than even he readily lets on. He is the linchpin for multiple large projects with dozens of internal and external stakeholders competing for his time and attention.

He picked me up and, shortly after getting in his car, his iPhone was all business – ringing, beeping, and buzzing with potential activity. He silenced it, we continued our conversation, and just a couple of minutes later, the iPhone was back to business again. At this point, he picked it up and placed it in Airplane Mode, which cuts wi-fi and 3G but leaves the phone otherwise functional. Respectfully, I did the same.

My first thought was, wow, what a show of respect for me and our time together. I was honored and humbled by this simple act that broadcasted that nothing was more important to him (and, trust me, he has other things far more important).

Secondly, it got me to thinking why he chose Airplane Mode versus turning the phone off. After a few minutes at lunch it became readily apparent. We were showing photos across the table about our recent travels and activities. We were sharing tips, ideas and links and taking notes. We were communing and catching up by using this tremendously powerful technology in ways that enriched the conversation, not distracted from it.

I think far too often we deride the use of such technology when we are having a conversation or in a meeting as a distraction. This was a reminder to me that the technology can, when used effectively, provide a enhancement to the stories we tell and allow us to capture the things that matter. It’s ability to distract is only as powerful as our ability to not let it do so.

Consider this idea the next time you have a need to turn off all external communications yet still remain in a full, upright, and locked position with the conversations you care about.