PR Pros: Shut Your Phone Off This Valentine’s Day. I Dare You!

Just turn it off. (Thinkstock)
Just turn it off. (Thinkstock)
Just turn it off. (Thinkstock)

We have written a lot about the changing nature of communications. But when it comes to personal communications, many things haven’t and shouldn’t change.

That’s why I’m shutting my phone off for 24 hours this Valentines Day. And I dare my fellow PR professionals to do the same.

If you’re like me, you’ll find it harder than it sounds. PR is a dynamic and fast-moving industry that often requires us to be hyper-connected, but at times that can be stressful and make us a little obsessed with our phone, tablet or other personal device of choice. To make matters worse, people everywhere are turning to technology of all kinds to give Cupid’s arrow a little boost with Valentine’s Day coming up. That means we risk spending more time than ever with our other secret lover—our mobile device—right before we re-engage in real life.

For those who already have a valentine, the stakes are high. A recent study showed that 53% of all U.S. women will dump their man if they don’t get a Valentine’s Day gift, which might explain the last-minute online rush for flowers, chocolates and that perfect corner table at the romantic restaurant.

For those still looking for love, there’s historically a spike in online dating site traffic, as folks spend extra time swiping through Tinder, Zoosk, OkCupid or Match.com. And we won’t even get into what happens on the biochemical side of the innovation equation around Valentines Day. Whether it’s alcohol, aphrodisiacs, aromas, or little blue pills, people try to hack the human code when the stakes are high, as MSNBC reported a few years ago.

But the one thing all these tech tools have in common is this—they’re used by people seeking to improve a distinctly offline experience. We find our partner, we get the flowers, we buy the chocolates, we get the perfect table … and then hopefully we switch the smartphone off and spend time actually looking into the eyes of the person for whom we’ve gone through all this trouble. Hopefully this is all in service of authentic human connection.

Sadly, that’s not always the case. The problem is that the same tools we use to find love are the same tools that can get in the way all too easily. Last fall, The Huffington Post reported on studies that showed how mobile devices, apps, and social media can ruin relationships. Just search “Technology and Intimacy” and see what comes up—article after article warning of the perils of tech addiction, occasionally interspersed with a pitch for how a new technology can help relationships.

That’s why this Valentines Day I’m shutting all my mobile devices off for 24 hours. I want to see what it’s like to go cold turkey and re-engage with the people around me. I’d love to rediscover the electricity from simply maintaining eye contact. And I’d love to test my ability to process the exabytes of data rushing at me in the form of my hand being held, hearing a joke, observing body language or smelling perfume.

If you’re looking for something to fill the hours, try this: 36 questions that are engineered to build authentic human intimacy between two people who’ve just met. You could even print it up if you want to hold true to your vow of digital abstinence.

At B&O, we believe that technology is most amazing when it lives in service of people and their quality of life. We also believe in the importance of work-life balance, even in a profession as hectic as tech PR. And we’re going to encourage all of our people to switch off and reboot over the Valentines Day weekend. Because in the always-on lifestyle of PR professionals, a little downtime and authentic human connection helps us stay true to our mission and ourselves.