It's not helping as much as you think it is — and it's damaging things more than you realize.
There is no doubt that a cell phone is a huge asset, especially when in a challenging or emergency situation, or to keep in touch with people when out on the road. But somewhere along the way, the status many people give to this small multi-functional gadget in their lives has become distorted.
Sadly, the impact is sometimes extremely damaging.
I work with a wide variety of people, as individuals and strategically within teams and organizations. Over the past 10 years, I have watched a worrying trend gather pace; the way the cell phone is taking over family life and social situations.
When it does, there is a very real danger that the impact on the individual's and their family's life quality is both significant and far-reaching.
Here is a real-life scenario. A few weeks ago, I was in a restaurant. At the table next to us were a mother and son (he was about 11 or 12) and another lady who was obviously well known to the others.
We all arrived at the same time and within a very few moments all three had taken out their cell phones.
During the next two hours the only words spoken by the people on that table were to give the waitress their menu, a thank you when their dinner arrived and a few abortive attempts by the young lad to tell the ladies about the goal he'd scored earlier in the morning.
His attempts to communicate received "Pardon," "Hang on a minute, just let me finish this," and "What did you say?" in response. At this point, the boy gave up and took out his own cell phone and began to play a game on it.
Just think what the accumulative effect is on a young person where their parents treat them with such disinterest in what they have been doing. Imagine the impact on their sense of self-worth, their confidence and communication skills.
Below I have highlighted what I see as the five most inherent dangers of allowing the cell phone to take precedence. All of these are common issues highlighted by my real clients.
A cell phone ruins your life by:
1. Being Addictive.
All of these functions are really useful. It's not the function that's the problem, but rather that people get hooked in and spend a disproportionate amount of time surfing through "stuff."
The problem is that you can only use your time once. Just over 6,000,000 hours in a lifetime of 70 years.
In total, 25,567 days is all you have, and by the time you take out working, eating, sleeping, cleaning your teeth, there is something to be said about making your time count.
Of course there is a place for using cell phones, but if you consider how much of your time you are spending on your cell phone, are you really getting value out of your time?
2. Creating False Relationships.
Watching a group of young adults in a coffee shop last week, it was interesting that rather than talk to one another, they were texting.
There has been much in the media lately about how people are finding it more and more difficult to communicate effectively and how dealing with real people is causing ever-greater stress within personal relationships and at work.
My concern is that if you spend most of your time communicating through texts or in a virtual world, it will become harder and harder to learn the skills required to create a lasting, loving, inter-dependent relationship.
The divorce rate has never been higher, and, of course, the reasons for that are complex, but I believe one component is the way people learn to interact with others, to read body language, to interpret tone of voice and what is said, etc.
Learning to give and take, compromise and negotiate is almost impossible without practice. That practice needs to be with the real thing, not through the medium of technology.
3. Being A Relationship Wrecker.
I was working with a director of a very successful firm just before Christmas. We began talking about his work and life balance. He was working every evening using his cell phone to answer emails. His wife spent the evening on Facebook.
The children frequently asked for attention but were often told to get on with their games or watching TV, since their parents were busy.
We talked about the consequences of this pattern of behavior on the relationship between him and his wife. He felt they were drifting apart. We examined the impact on his relationship with his children, too.
The impact was two-fold: In order to get their parents attention the children were behaving badly. They wanted attention, and if they couldn't get it when they were being good, they would have it on any terms.
Not only this, but we know that children learn the behaviors modeled by their parents. I asked him if he was keen for his children to follow his example. He said no.
4. Destroying Boundaries Between Professional And Personal Life.
Later in the discussion, we spoke of how his customers and staff now expected instant access to him 24/7. More and more people were intruding in his personal life, but he saw that he was feeding the very behaviors he wanted to reduce.
5. It Is Distracting Your Real Purpose In Life.
It's an indisputable fact that we can use our time and our energy only once. Once you use it, it has gone forever. Only the outcomes of our efforts have the potential to live on long past the actual time given.
I asked my client what he thought the legacy was of all his time spent in the evenings, and he couldn't identify anything positive except that he thought it saved him a bit of time the next morning. We looked for a way forward.
Everything we do is a choice. Even not choosing is a choice, so it is entirely in your hands whether the cell phone is a useful tool or a threat to the quality of your life.
Here is a real-life solution to stop a cell-phone usage from ruining your life. Putting a boundary around using the phone or any electronic device is really helpful, especially when all parties agree to the parameters of use.
This was my client's solution:
- All changes were to be tried out initially for a month.
- The changes were all agreed and discussed with his wife, as both had to change their approach if their relationship was to be enhanced.
- They agreed that they would switch cell phones off early in the evening so they could spend some quality time with the children in the early evening and with one another later.
- Work colleagues were informed that unless there was a dire emergency, he would not be available after the agreed time.
- All emails after work had closed were answered automatically with a message saying the email would be dealt with during working hours the next day.
- Specific work people were given the home number with very specific instructions as to what constituted an emergency — the work building catching fire or a serious illness etc.
Each one was given a different ringtone on the house phone, enabling my client to choose whether to answer or not.
The outcome was profound! The client and his wife rekindled their relationship. They started to talk more and as a result became closer and more intimate. The children behaved better. Their school work improved as their father had time to listen to them read, to play with them, talk to them and to help them with their homework.
He was less tired and able to think more clearly at work. No customer was lost as a result of having to wait till the next morning. More junior staff were able to manage their own time and boundaries better as they were no longer under pressure to respond to emails sent late at night.
At the end of the month there was no question of going back to the old ways. Paradoxically, my client was more productive at work, a better husband and father who felt so much happier and more fulfilled.
I challenge you to try the principles out for a month to see how it works for you.
Gina Gardener is an Inspirational Speaker, Master NLP, Business and Life Coach, and author of Chariots On Fire, a remarkable story about how to create a positive advantage.