Every now and then a subject grabs me by the collar and gradually tightens its grip until I just have to write about it and what better place to vent than the SFS Instructor’s Blog?
What has me gasping for air this time is the overuse of mobile phones. I simply don’t understand what monumental shift has taken place within the last 15 years that has caused people to spend endless hours talking on their mobile phones. I am bound to ask, “Why?”
Are people just bored? Is it that as a society we’ve become acclimated to so much hyper-emotional stimulation that we get bored silly if we’re not doing two or three things at once? Why just drive our car when we can drive and talk? Or why take a quiet walk when we can listen to our iPods, text our friends, check our Facebook page AND talk on the phone at the same time? (And don’t even get me started on Twitter!)
Do people dread the sound of silence? Sadly, I would submit that because of the constant mental stimulation in today’s world, the thought of being left alone with our own thoughts is intimidating to much of our population.
Ironically, people today are reaching out to others by using the same technology that has isolated them in the first place! Think about it. Many folks are lonely because “high touch” activities (handshakes, personal visits, etc.) have been replaced with “high tech” tools (email, voice mail, etc.). Therefore it should not be a surprise that we’re using this same new technology to help us feel connected.
Although the phone companies spend tens of millions of dollars every year trying to convince us that our phone minutes are free, their messages sound suspiciously like casino operators who tell us about all the money we’ll win at their blackjack tables and loose slots. Somehow I figure both the lavish casinos and the telecommunications companies are being built with my losings and my “free” minutes. Yet, while most of us may be aware of the actual costs of our phone calls are we considering the “hidden costs”?
For example, think of the cost of a phone call in terms of the value of your time, it reframes the cost of your “free” minutes. What is your time worth? What is the time worth of the person you’re calling? What task are you pulling that person away from, and how long will it take them to re-engage in the task your phone call interrupted?
What message are we sending to the person we’re calling? Are we really saying, “Hey, I don’t have anything better to do with my time, so I thought I’d give you a call”? Even if you don’t have anything better to do with your time, the person you’re calling might. (In Steve Toburen’s section on phone usage in our SFS seminar he reminds you to always use a “Courtesy Question” at the start of every out-going business call, as in “Am I calling at a good time?”.)
What about the people we’re with? It seems as though we’re always on the phone talking with someone who’s someplace else. You see two people driving down the street in a car, or a couple having dinner in a restaurant, and you notice they’re not talking with each other! Instead, each one is on their cell phone talking to someone who is somewhere else and probably ignoring their dinner partner too! What can possibly be so important that we must ignore the person(s) directly in front of us?
In an effort to help you determine whether your call justifies the hidden expense it will create let me offer a suggestion. Do you remember years ago when we had pay phones? I might be giving away my age by even mentioning them, but you saw these relics everywhere…street corners, gas stations, airports. Well, the next time you’re tempted to make an indiscriminate phone call just because you’re feeling bored or lonely (or you can’t stand the “screaming silence”!) ask yourself if you’d be willing to take the time to pull your car over to a pay phone to make that call? If you would, then it probably justifies the “time interruption” for both you and the person you want to call. On the other hand, if your projected call won’t pass the “pull-over-and-use-a- pay-phone” test then don’t make the call on your mobile phone either!