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Friday Philosophy – The Inappropriate Use of Smart Phones February 24, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, off-topic, Private Life, rant.
Tags: , , ,

I’m kind of expecting to get a bit of a comment-kicking over this one…

I never much liked mobile phones – Yes they are incredibly useful, yes they allow countries that lack a ground-based telephony network to create a nationwide system, yes they allow communication all the time from almost anywhere. That last point is partly why I dislike them. {Actually, I don’t like normal phones much, or how some people {like my wife} will interrupt a conversation to dash across the room to answer it. It’s just a person on the phone, it will take a message if someone wants to say something significant. If someone calls your name out in a crowd, do you abandon the people you are talking to, dash across the room and listen to them exclusively? No, so what act that way over a phone?}.

However, I hold a special level of cynical dislike for “smart” phones. Why? Because people seem to be slaves to them and they seem to use them in a very antisocial way in social and even business situations. It is no longer just speaking or texting that people do, it’s checking and sending email, it’s twittering and blogging, it’s surfing the net and looking things up. I have no problem with any of this, I do all of these things on my desktop, laptop, netbook. But I don’t do them to the detriment of people who are there in the flesh – whilst supposedly in a conversation with mates at the pub or carrying out a transaction in a shop or using the coffee machine at work or, basically, standing in the bloody way staring at a little screen or rudely ignoring people who I am supposed to be interacting with.

The below is my phone. It makes calls, it sends texts, it might even be able to work as an alarm clock (I am not sure). It does not do anything else much and it was ten quid {actually the below might be the version up from the really cheap thing I have}:

I was pondering this rude (ab)use of Smart Phones in a meeting this week. It was a meeting to discuss a program of work, what needed doing and by whom. It was a meeting where everyone in the room was involved, each person’s opinion was important and we all had a vested interest in the outcome of the meeting. So why did over half of the people not only have their Smart Phone out but were tapping away, scrolling through stuff, looking at some asinine rubbish on Facebook {yes, I saw you}? One or two people in the room might have been able to argue that they needed to keep an eye out for important emails or calls – but really? Are things so incredibly important and only you can deal with them that you can’t just play your full part in a meeting for an hour? I was so annoyed by this that I missed half the meeting internally moaning about it…

I just see it as rude. It’s saying “while you people are talking, I can’t be bothered listening and I certainly don’t need to give you my full attention. And I don’t even care that I’m making it so obvious”. Or “I am buying this item from you and we need to deal with the transaction but you are so inconsequential I don’t even have to pause this conversation about which cafe to meet in next week. You do not deserve more than 15% of my attention”.

I supposed that is what really gets my blood slowly heating up, it’s that it has become accepted to be so rude. Just walk down the street, head down and eyes fixed on your glowing little screen, making no attempt to navigate with your fellow city dwellers. I made a decision 2 {correction, 3} years ago that, if you are walking along staring at your phone and you are going to collide with me, you ARE going to collide with me if you do not become aware of me and make allowances – and I am lower down than you, I braced my shoulder and I am going to win this one. If they are so fixated on that bl00dy screen that they do not heed any attention to others, people ping off me like they’ve been thumped by a tree stump. It now happens a lot and I always “win”. I’m surprised no one has punched me yet.

If I was a manager again I would introduce a simply rule. No Smart Phone in your hand unless you have a stated reason for doing so. There are many valid reasons, which will all be related to the meeting. Otherwise you are just being disrespectful. If you feel the meeting does not apply to you or this section is not relevant, fine. Sit still and listen anyway. You might actually find it useful to know what everyone else is doing. Stop playing bl00dy mental chickens or whatever or updating your status to “bored”.

I will hold strongly to these opinions. Right up until the minute I finally buy that iphone I’ve been considering getting. I really want to be able to check my twitter account during meetings, you see.



1. Dom Brooks - February 24, 2012

100% agree.

But I’m surprised, shocked even.
I’ve never been in such a team meeting.
Suggests that the appropriate standards and expectations have not been set (and/or not set by example).

Completely inappropriate.
Hang on, just got to go and flush…. (joke)

2. Mike Cox - February 24, 2012

I just read this on my smartphone 8(

I think you have missed the key point, for goodness sake get an android phone not one of those dreadful iphones, one must have some standards !

mwidlake - February 24, 2012

It’s fine reading it on your smartphone. So long as you are NOT in a meeting, NOT buying an item in a shop, NOT buying a train ticket, NOT dealing with a real human being, NOT in my way in the street and NOT repeat NOT in the toilet, like Mr Brooks (nasty fellow).

3. Aman.... - February 24, 2012

So its safe to guess that there would be a part 2 of this post coming up soon when you would finally get your iPhone , right :)? On a serious note , I really do agree with you that people most likely ‘abuse’ their phones rather than using them. And the worst part is that when person in front of you is checking his tweets or emails or Facebook when you are talking to him , it’s you who look like a fool and I truly hate it when it happens with me. But I guess there is nothing much that can be done for it because now having a phone is not important but having a smart phone is.

mwidlake - February 24, 2012

Yes Aman, when I get a smartphone I’ll have to post again and say if I have become the exact person I am complaining about 🙂

4. Neil Chandler - February 24, 2012

Luddite. Don’t blame the tools, blame the workman.

One of my friends had *exactly* the same attitude as you. He would be full of pysh and vinegar if he caught even a glimpse of modern technology when we were out socialising. Can you predict his behaviour when a shiny new iphone4 became his after years of holding out and ire?

Part of the problem is not wanting to be “out of the information loop” and “needing” to know things NOW so they can feel important. We’re all misguided fools.

Oh, and what the problem with Dom playing Angry Birds on the toilet? Eh? Just remember to disinfect your phone afterwards to minimise the risk from the fecal particulate in which is it now covered.(30% of smartphones…ugh.)


mwidlake - February 24, 2012

It is not the TOOL I am complaining about (err, well, maybe just a bit 🙂 ), it is the way it is used.

I’m sure I’ll modify my position once I have one. But even now, if I am on my mobile and I need to deal with someone in front of me, I do this really unusual thing – I ask the person on the phone to wait a minute. So maybe I won’t change that much.

I really don’t want the phrase “faecal particulate” to become common on my blog, that would lead to all sorts of strange web hits…

Neil Chandler - February 25, 2012

With regard to “faecal particulate”, you’re just setting me a challenge. 😉

note: that’s 3 times. should up the hit count from Google.

mwidlake - February 25, 2012

Not on the first page of a Google search yet and I am NOT repeating the phrase again. I will remove any more mentions you make!

(so much for this being a technical blog as opposed to a juvenile humour one…)

5. Craig - February 24, 2012

Couldn’t agree more. This is one of my top pet peeves. I have the same complaint about people on their laptops too. If during the meeting you can use your phone / laptop to add value to the meeting, by all means take advantage. Otherwise keep it put away. If you have something more important to do or don’t want to contribute, by all means feel free to leave, but don’t sit in the meeting and distract everyone else.

mwidlake - February 24, 2012

Thanks Craig. Yes, use technology to add benefit. Don’t use it to be a more antisocial sod. Most of us in IT can be strikingly antisocial all on our own without the benefit of a small computing device 🙂

6. jgarry - February 24, 2012

If someone calls your name, do you abandon the people you are talking to, dash across the room and listen to them exclusively?
Yes, yes I… wait, what is this “people you are talking to” thing?

tkyte blog: (Stumble upon is perfect for those long conference calls 🙂 And sub-conversations

Just got an android phone, haven’t really put much time into evaluating it yet. I’m not a slave, I’m not a number, I’m a free… oh, yes, I am a number. But the gmail alias works too.

I guess I’m lucky, I don’t really have to go to many meetings these days. But seeing people driving and on their phones, ooooohhhhh…

7. David Harper - February 25, 2012

You may be amused to learn (apropos Craig’s comment) that some of your former colleagues were recently taken to task for bringing their laptops and iPads to the Tuesday morning informatics meeting and using them quite openly during the talks. My wife also commented that the same thing happens at the seminars which she attends at London University. Some people are quite brazenly rude.

On the other hand, both my wife and I have smart phones (Android, not iPhone) and they are much easier to use for texting than the traditional mobile where you have to use the number keys. It’s also very handy to be able to call up a map showing the latest traffic fubars when you’re on the road. And my wife swears by the memo app which allows her to make to-do lists.

And don’t forget Angry Birds. Seriously, a word of advice: do NOT download Angry Birds. Even someone with iron willpower is going to find themselves hooked on this game. I swear it’s part of an alien conspiracy to enslave the human race, like in that Doctor Who episode.

8. a coward - February 27, 2012

Normally I like and agree with what you say Martin, but not this time. So go on, add another 90 quid to your budget and get a cheapo android you tight fisted wad. You will wonder how you got along in life without one.

mwidlake - February 27, 2012

Hey, my first proper negative response on this one – and you are hiding! Go on, confess who you are.

There is a longer story about why I poses quite such a cheap phone, which includes pickled onions, jam, an intensive care unit and Oxford Circus. Despite the ingredients, it’s maybe not that great a story though.

I will get a proper smartphone, I recognise how helpful they are, I just hate the way people are slaves to them…

9. S - June 16, 2012

I entered the fray with a similar posting in 2011. http://simonbatterbury.wordpress.com/2011/06/24/bonfire-of-the-smartphones-cathy-davidson-vs-baroness-greenfield/
So far, nobody has objected to that one.
The thing about technical change is that is sometimes overreaches itself. This will happen with smartphones. it has happened with bicycles – in my city, you cannot get a standard steel drop handlebar racer from the 70s anymore – they have all been made into single speed fixies!
Don’t throw out your old mobile! Collectors item.
I find smartphones to be handy gadgets that are atrophying brain function and creating a nation of screen addicts. Of course users defend them – they tremble at the thought of having to navigate using a map, or talk to people in the real world, later rather than NOW.

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