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Thursday, August 07, 2008

Cell Phone Slavery

Have you ever sat amongst a group of people - and observed that you are absolutely the only one who stands out? You're amongst what would seem to be a group of peers, of like-minded individuals who probably share similar lives. But then you notice something so remarkable, so profound. You know in an instant that you different. I have those moments frequently now. They are always centered around the cell phone, or the Blackberry - both insidious devices that infiltrate life as many know it.

I went to an outdoor museum recently with my family. It was a weekday afternoon, and we were strolling through the woods looking at outdoor exhibits of wild animals. And there she was. A young mother, walking by herself, talking up a storm on her cell phone ... while her little girl wandered aimlessly behind her. The mother seemed not to notice how far the girl was behind her. The girl seemed not to notice how far ahead her mother was. I wondered if this is really what the mother had in mind when she planned an afternoon outing to the museum with her daughter.

Another time I called on a high-ranking executive at Citibank in New York. We flew in for this meeting, spending thousands of dollars in travel and lodging expenses. We were welcomed to a lofty perch in their Manhattan skyscraper, and shortly greeted by the executive we had come to see. A few other executives were in the room as well, so it was a good group and promised to be an excellent meeting. And then it happened. Early into the slide presentation, you noticed that this particular executive spent most of her time looking into her lap. Peering over the conference table, I discovered that infamous Blackberry. She spent most of the meeting looking at the Blackberry, reading and responding to e-mails. I wondered if this is what she really had in mind when she scheduled this meeting. "You fly to New York, spend days preparing, and present important things to me. I'll ignore you and do e-mails." Is that what she really had in mind?

I was with a group of executives today, in another large, east coast city. Out of four of us, I noticed that at lunch I was the only one who wasn't constantly checking my Blackberry for e-mail or phone messages. I wondered why that was. They had said, "Let's go to lunch so we can talk about this." Instead, we went to lunch and they did e-mails while I ate and watched them. Was this what they really had in mind?

My wife and I had an appointment the other day. She had her cell phone on and said as we were parking that she would change it to the "vibrate" setting. She was expecting a call. I pointed out to her that even setting it to vibrate would indicate that whomever was calling her would be more important than who we'd be meeting with. "Do you really want to send that message, honey?" She turned the cell phone off. I was so proud of her!

When you are sitting with me, and your cell phone vibrates, I notice that you check it. You're looking to see if, by chance, someone more important than me wants to talk to you. If your child or spouse were in intensive care, I might understand. But you should understand something about me. When I meet with you, I turn my cell phone off. I leave my cell phone in the car. I'm intentional about this time I have to spend with you. I don't want to squander that opportunity to know you, to hear you, to relate to you. And I wonder - why you don't turn your cell phone off too. Do you really intend not to do those things with me?

We are enslaved by our cell phones. These wonderful little marvels of technology are keeping us in constant ... chronic communication. However, they are keeping us out of important relationships. While they help us communicate, they absolutely prevent us from relating.

I could go on, but I think you get my point - so I won't. Let me just say that knowing you, relating to you and hearing you are far more important than communicating with you. So - won't you please turn off your cell phone for a while?

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