At the Boston University commencement address last month, Google executive Eric Schmidt offered some seemingly simple advice to BU graduates: "Take one hour a day and turn that thing off."
"What's the first thing that you guys do when you wake up? Right? Check your phone or your laptop. Read some e-mails. Comb through your social networks. I'm awake, here I am! Right? If you're awake, you're online, you're connected," Schmidt said. "Some of you are probably texting right now, or tweeting the speech, changing your status."
Schmidt's message is not anti-technology, but instead, “anti-being-ruled-by technology.” Coming from a man whose enormously successful career has been based on making it even harder to turn that thing off, it’s an interesting advice.
"People bemoan this generation that is growing up living life in front of screens, always connected to something or someone," he admitted. "These people are wrong … The fact that we're all connected now is a blessing – not a curse."
"I know it's going to be hard," he said, as the camera zoomed in on a graduate shaking her head in disagreement. "Shut it down. Learn where the off button is."
Throughout the commencement speech Schmidt also took a several digs at another company. “Don't push a button saying I like something – actually tell them. Life is not lived in the glow of a monitor. Life is not a series of status updates."
So will Schmidt’s advice stick? It’s hard to say, as Schmidt's challenge is difficult, and for so many of us, almost impossible.
Among those who text, teenage girls 14 to 17 sent a median of 100 messages daily in 2011, according to the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project. A survey from the publisher of Parents and FamilyFun magazines found that 12 percent of Millennial Moms, born between 1977 and 1994, had used their smartphones during sex. According to a 2011 report by Common Sense Media, more than half of children five to eight used an iPad, iPhone or other touch-screen device to watch videos, play games or engage in other activities.
"There is no part of their lives that is media-free,” the Parents and FamilyFun magazine survey reported.
This connectivity is both blessing and curse. The blessing is the Internet's no-transaction-cost capacity to maintain friendships, while the curse is the powerful, distracting addiction to the world of instant updates and constant feedback.
A decade ago, pre-Facebook, pre-Twitter, pre-BlackBerry, the idea of unplugging for an hour daily would have been laughably easy. But no longer, which is why Schmidt's challenge is sobering.
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