I captured the image to the left at a playground near a beautiful lake the other day. Devoid of cell phone, I noticed the beautiful water, the birds in the trees, and watched my daughter playing in the sand thinking that there are not going to be many more years before she’ll be done with playgrounds and be off with friends. A mother was also there with her two children, but she was oblivious to everything, instead being intently focused on her smart phone.
A similar scene is going on all over America and doubtlessly all over the world. A mother looking at something probably unimportant on a smart phone while her children play and grow up. Sure she’s outside in a beautiful area, but she might as well be sitting on her couch or at her desk at the office because he attention is focused entirely on her device.
In France a law has actually been passed that restricts how late a boss can send emails and texts or call employees about work. This was done to avoid the increasingly common practice of texting employees at home or wherever they are. This action, coupled with the employees feeling the need to respond (it’ll just take a moment), destroys the home/work balance that is really important for individuals and families. Employees have gone from working eight to ten hours a day (ok, six to seven hours in France) and then spending the rest of the time in their day with their families to being always on call, being regularly interrupted for things that could wait until the next day. This is particularly bad for salesmen and product support employees since customers expect to be able to reach people at any time and often call personal cell phones at all hours.
In the old days only missile silo commanders needed to leave a number where they could be reached at all times. Now this is true of middle managers and even rank-and-file employees. It also used to be that people would get called at home when there was a pressing need, but this was rare and only done when really necessary. Also, because most people would leave work at about the same time, there was rarely a reason to call. Now everyone has a cell phone with access to work emails, so some dash off an email or text to other employees during evenings or weekends.
Meal times were also held sacred. Now, due to the prevalence of cell phones, calling at all hours for any reason is considered just fine. Also, rather than not calling during traditional meal times for fear of interrupting another’s dinner, many people call others while they themselves are eating. Go into any restaurant and you’ll see many people ignoring their dinner companions while they text or talk on the phone.
There are some instances where people are required (or strongly encouraged) by their employer to carry a cell phone and be always reachable. Often, however, this is self-imposed. People are constantly checking any text that comes in, having feeds from Twitter and FaceBook, and always answering the phone no matter what they are doing. (In fact, when I talked to this mom briefly after I took the picture, in the three minutes during which we talked she replied to two texts and took a phone call.) Behavioural scientists have shown that this is in fact an addictive behaviour with individuals showing signs of withdrawal such as nervousness, irritability, and depression when they are without their mobile devices; hence the nickname, CrackBerry.
Personally I don’t carry a cell phone. I normally meet with a great deal fo surprise when I tell people this. There are a variety of reasons, however. The first is that when I am away from my desk and out of the house, there are very few times that I want people to call me. I am normally busy driving or doing something and don’t want to be pulled away from it to take a call. Sure I could turn off the ringer or let it go to voicemail, but people are expecting to be able to always reach everyone all of the time, so I’m sure doing so would offend some people.
The second is that I really don’t see the need for the expense. There are never any calls that just can’t wait until I get home, and up until recently pay phones were widely available for the few times a year when I wanted to make a call when I was out. Even now, with payphones disappearing due to lack of business, I can still generally borrow a cell phone for the rare times when I need one. I just don’t see paying a thousand dollars a year or more for the few times a year I need to make a call when away from a phone.
The final reason is that I know I would become addicted just like everyone else. At work I can’t help but check and reply to emails when they come in regardless of what I’m doing. With this blog I stop and check for comments and views each time I pass the computer, even though I rarely get comments. I just know that if I had a cell phone I would be staring at the screen just like the mother in the photo.
As I’ve tried to explain to my son, there is just something about being where you are. When I’m in the park, I want to be fully in the park. When I’m at home with my wife, I want to be fully there. When I see friends, I want to be fully with them. When I’m camping, I want to be cut off from the outside world. I don’t want to be there but be worrying about things at home or making plans for the next week. I don’t even want to be catching up with a friend.
Below is what I was witnessing while the mother was looking at her smart phone screen. Besides missing out on time with her son, she was missing out on this beautiful sunset that would end a day that would never come again. Happily soon after this she put away her phone and walked down by the lake with her son. Perhaps with a lot of personal control, people can carry a cell phone and yet not have it control their lives. Then again, casual smokers exist, but they are rare.