I think it’s time to admit we’re not handling it well – our relationship with our cellphones. The usefulness of this technology is often overshadowed by human obsessiveness and this not only harms relationships it’s putting some of us at risk.
I’ll start with my walk to a gathering on Friday morning. Because I was at an unfamiliar intersection at rush hour (which in Halifax, because of the transit strike, is now the rush 3 hours) I was paying very careful attention to each driver. My curiosity was peaked by a young woman (in her late 20’s or early 30’s) who drove through the intersection (fortunately she had the green light) while smiling with delight and looking down at the seat beside her. Not one bit of her attention was focused on driving or the road.
At first I thought there was a child beside her, but her gaze and expression were more static, not interactive, and she was looking straight down, not across and down. Just as she passed me I saw what had her full attention – her cellphone – she was reading a text on her cellphone. It must have been a wonderful message because her expression was definitely one of joy and happiness – the kind of expression we get when we are extremely excited about something. Perhaps her Friday night was going to be awesome. But even as she drove past me, moving down the street towards her job, she did not look up or around at the vehicles and pedestrians close by.
Now I do understand – and fully appreciate – excitement. Perhaps she had been stuck in traffic moments before I saw her and just couldn’t resist checking her messages. Then traffic started to move and there she was, fully engaged with her cellphone.
This, as we all know, is dangerous, very dangerous. The studies have been done, continue to be done, that prove that texting and driving don’t mix. And it is so obvious really. Would we read a magazine or newspaper while we drive?
And it isn’t that it’s dangerous for only the driver of the vehicle, it’s dangerous for people around them. I had the misfortune last year of being nearby when a driver struck a pedestrian on Alderney Drive. The cry of anguish and horror that came from that driver when he stepped out of his car still rings in my ears. No one wants to have that experience.
So … we’ve got to stop obsessing about the messages on our cellphone. Surely they can wait the 10 or 15 or 20 minutes until we have stopped driving!
On a much less dangerous note is the whole cellphone in a meeting thing.
A caveat here: I’ve been planning this blog for a long time, so if you’ve been in a meeting with me recently and your cellphone rang, please don’t think you and you alone have been my inspiration.
We are creating unnecessary discomfort, stress and distraction with our cellphones, and it’s time to agree to change.
When I dig back in my memory – which makes me feel like an antique but I keep doing it because I have found some wisdom there – I can visualize the cellphone-less meetings, workshops, events. Customers weren’t any less important then, we simply handled it differently.
What often happened was, just before the introductions or the first item on the agenda someone might say “I’ve got an important client that I may need to speak to during this meeting. I’ve given them the number here and if they call, I’m going to have to take it.”
Everyone around the table would nod – “Fair enough”, they’d be thinking. “Thanks for letting us know about the possible interruption.” And they’d go on with the meeting. The interruption, if and when it came, would actually be absorbed into the meeting with minimal impact because it was expected, because everyone had agreed it was important.
At an event, an usher might appear with a flashlight looking for the person who’s important call was awaiting them in the manager’s office, and while this distracted those in the immediate vicinity, it didn’t distract those on stage – or on the other side of the auditorium.
While within individual companies there may indeed be cellphone guidelines, other types of meetings seem to suffer from a haphazard approach. Often it’s when the first cellphone rings that everyone else remembers to turn their phones off or down. Many people sit with their cellphones on the table in front of them, eyeing them for activity. And still others simply stand up suddenly and disappear around a corner or down a hallway to have, what we all assume is, an urgent conversation.
These interactions with cellphones are interruptions to the flow of every gathering. If someone is speaking, they often lose their train of thought, and the group spends a few moments catching up with themselves before they are able to move forward with their discussion.
Interacting with our cellphone at a meeting or function, tells everyone else present that the message or text is more important and more interesting. Whether we want to admit it or not, when we are gathered with others and put our cellphone first someone is annoyed or offended – every time. You can only hope they were not a prospective client or partner!
What’s the solution? Well, first of all, I’d like to hear from you. How is it been handled at meetings and events you attend? What guidelines do you set for yourself?
I’ve come to believe that we are all responsible for “cellphone chaos” and need to be responsible for “cellphone etiquette”. I don’t think it’s only up to a meeting’s chair to set the tone. I think it’s up to all of us.
For example, any one can say, “Hey everyone, I’m just turning off my phone, in case you need a reminder.” or “This meeting will stay on schedule if we don’t get distracted. Why don’t we put our cellphones away for the next 30 minutes or so.”
And we can take a lesson from the olden days … if we do have an urgent call we must take, perhaps we can let everyone know before the meetings starts.
Truly, it’s time, time we controlled our cellphones, instead of letting them control us.
One last thought:
“It is amazing how much can be accomplished if no one cares who gets the credit.” — John Wooden