Too much tech?

A couple of days ago, Telstra had a significant outage of its Mobile network.

Here’s what I wrote about it on Facebook:

So, just to put the Telstra outage into perspective.

Yes, it was annoying.

Yes, it was also liberating as I got a ship-load of work done.

Yes, they seem to have determined that it was due to human error from one poor engineer who didn't follow standard operating procedures. (That bloke has officially had the worst day of his career, I reckon).

Yes, people are complaining and ranting at the 'big corporate' for not upholding their service agreements. (Again, I'm thinking of that poor bloke who made a we all have).

However, by my experience, the network was not delivering all or part of what it should have for around two, maybe two and a half hours. Mobile data came back after around an hour and voice calls recovered later.

Taking the 2.5 hours as the 'inconvenience' factor, it means that the mobile phone network is running at around 99.97% availability.

In my books, that's still a very high number.

And before anyone points the 'too-positive' PR finger, I'm not employed by Telstra although I work in with them quite a bit. Just stating a balancing factoid for all those quick to complain. It'd be interesting to compare service delivery stats across other businesses, including your own.


My relatively innocent reminder that it’s a good idea not to get too bogged down with the negatives of any situation, seemed to hit a nerve with many people. Tracking the post showed that it has spread to more than 35,000 people in under a day.

Granted, I know there would have been some people significantly disrupted by this – anyone on call for service delivery, situations when it was urgent to get in touch with someone. But for most of us, this was a reminder of a time when people interacted with each other in simpler ways and were less distracted by the ‘little screen’ that we keep in our pockets and handbags.


I’m concerned how addictive the need for constant updates and e-connection has become. In a world where we’re wanting to feel connected, the opposite seems to be happening. Disconnection with the people sitting next to us, disconnection from the job at hand, disconnection with nature and other physical delights.

And it’s not just the Gen Ys and Millenials. I’m guilty too and I just squeeze into being a Baby Boomer. I know, I don’t look like it, but yes, I’m that old. ;-)

Don’t get me wrong, technology’s great. It’s one of the topics I speak on at conferences and workshops. However, I feel as though the pendulum may have swung a little far towards the virtual world of ones and zeros, of Jpegs and YouTube, of 140 character messages, of dating sites where you ‘swipe away’ the potential partner of a lifetime and snapchat content that disappears with a puff of electrons when you least expect it. And today, it now powers much behind-the-scenes machine to machine (M2M) interactions including vending machines letting their virtual masters know that they are running low on salt and vinegar chips.

But this could be the opportunity to spend a moment and revert to the good, or not-so-good ol’ days. The days when we drove around with a pile of 20 cent pieces to stop at a pay phone to let our next meeting know that we were running late. The days when we finally got mobile phones, they had to be hard-wired into the car to draw similar power as a 2000W ‘fully schick’ sound system. The days when a portable phone had to be carried around by a personal Sherpa.


I remember my first phone (an NEC 9A) weighed close to a kilogram, cost me $1000 second hand and the fees to access the network were $45 per month. That’s before any phone charges people! Phone calls were measured in dollars per minute, not cents. But we used it for emergencies and to be more responsive to our customers. It created a level of competitive advantage, so it was worth it. And the w*nker factor? Enormous.

But it was a tool. One of many. Not a ‘portal into all of life’s needs’.NEC9A

So here are some simple ideas that I’m keen to try to reduce the amount of ‘little screen’ time. Not just for me but especially for those people that we see walking down the street, crossing in front of cars, while engaged with the electronic world rather than the real world around them.

  • When you go to lunch with a group of friends, have everyone place their phone on the table. If you touch your phone, you pick up the bill. Next one donates an agreed amount to a table-chosen charity, and so on. If they don’t play, they don’t come to lunch next time.
  • Place your phone on silent when you need to get something done. Give yourself a time limit to concentrate on whatever or whoever you’re with. Then look at your screen and enjoy that fact that you may not have any missed calls and the world didn’t fall apart for during the half hour you weren’t instantaneously connected.
  • Set your phone to ‘do not disturb’, so only the people on your select list get through.
  • Turn off your notifications to social media. I mean, why on earth are we all jumping to look at things the moment that they come in?
  • Actually leave your phone at home!!! I know, very challenging. But once you get over that initial separation anxiety, you may actually enjoy not being contacted. And rather than googling, shazamming or intagramming, you may have to think, remember or heaven forbid, remember your food for how it tastes, not the photo of how it looks.
  • Take out your headphones and listen to the sound of your surroundings. The birds, the ocean, the wind (even the traffic). Wow, all in true high fidelity.

I’ll be trying all of these, although I’m not one to wear headphones around when I’m outside.

Oops, gotta go. I haven’t checked my phone for an hour. Malcolm T may have rung me in that time. Plus, I have to post a photo of how amazing my working life is while I do creative work, drinking single-origin coffee at the local coffee roaster.

Would love to know what your strategies are for reducing screen time. Please share in the comments section and we might be able to treat each one as a challenge. Who knows, it may end up becoming a (positive) habit.

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Toby Travanner - Conference MC, Training Facilitator, Event MC, Business Coach, Corporate MC, Keynote Speaker