Peter de Jager is a provocative Speaker,
Writer and Consultant. His primary focus in on how we manage change,
technology and the future.
In addition to speaking at conferences
worldwide, he also writes monthly columns for CIO Magazine and
His goal is always to question what we
think is so, and in so doing perhaps open up new opportunities.
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The problem with public transportation is the ever present press of people. We're herded from one location to another with little opportunity to be alone. The only chance for quiet and privacy are the few minutes we spend hidden in the safe harbour of a public stall. Hardly an opulent resting place, but it provides a few moments of peace, safe from the noise of the crowd.
That is until, in the stall next to you, a cell phone rings out with the opening notes of Beethoven's Fifth and then, to your utter amazement, the individual, amid the grunts and groans of normal bodily functions, answers the phone and holds a loud (as always) conversation. As you leave the stall you shake your head as you realize that another bastion of privacy and solitude has fallen prey to electronic communications.
While I see the usefulness of a cell phone, I've never really understood this compulsion to be in constant contact with anyone. Nor do I have a need, in my line of work, to give my clients the ability to contact me at a moments notice. Until very recently I did not own a cell phone. To many that marks me as a card carrying Technophobe. For me it was merely an acceptance of the fact that I had no pressing need to be in 'contact' every moment of the day.
I now carry a cell phone. Why? Because recently I underwent heart surgery and while recuperating I went for long walks with the dog. Having a means to call 911 if I fell down and couldn't get up seemed like a good idea. Only three people have my cell phone number, my wife and sons.
I obviously have a different view of the importance of a ringing phone. It will never have priority over the person I'm physically with. I will never interrupt a personal conversation to answer a call from what could be a complete stranger, or worse, a telemarketer. That, in my mind at least, is an grievous insult to the person in front of me.
We have all been in the middle of a conversation with a sales clerk, receptionist, airline check in person etc. etc. and have them turn away from us to answer an incoming call. Personally I have a very negative response to this behaviour. I consider it both extremely rude and an example of the poorest possible customer service. I don't care that the phone is ringing. I'm here now... deal with me first and then deal with the person who might be a thousand miles away from the front of the line. I doubt that my gut reaction to this situation is different from that of most people.
All of us have sat in a cinema straining to hear the actors over the chattering of some fool having a conversation (loudly of course) on a cell phone. This is so common as to be unworthy of comment. A cinema after all is a 'public' space and rudeness isn't a crime, just an indication of social immaturity and a symptom of the etiquettely challenged.
If answering a phone when with others is a sign of disrespect and a personal insult, what are we to make of phones ringing and being answered in places of worship? All around the world, churches are faced with the problem of phones disturbing holy services. A quick search on Google for the terms "Cell phone churches ban" yields more than 4,000 articles. I wonder how God feels about having his (her?) time with believers interrupted with conversations about more important topics?
Which raises the question... If you're a believer, I'm curious as to what phone call you think qualifies as sufficient enough reason to interrupt your conversation with God? It must be earth shattering to say the least.
There was, and for the moment still is, one place where we are safe from the sound of a ringing phone. At 30,000 ft we're not allowed to use cell phones. The reason is that they will supposedly interfere with the sensitive navigation equipment. Yes, there are on board phones we can use but they're expensive and that alone cuts down on usage. Although there was this one painful trip where the gentleman sitting next to me, carried on a conversation with his mistress throughout the long trans-Atlantic flight... an expensive tête-à-tête. How do I know it was a "mistress"? When you can't avoid overhearing a 5 hour intimate conversation, there isn't much you don't know about their relationship.
That last bastion of ring free space is about to vanish. The airlines have recently done extensive testing and have decided that they can offer cell phone usage while in the air. Since they can offer it safely, and there is a class of traveler who believes they need this service, there is no doubt that within a few years, all airlines will allow it and present it as a feature.
It is also a simple matter to predict that incidents of air rage will spike sharply when this happens.
In the long run, cell phone usage at 30,000 ft is a bad idea. In a cinema the chattering idiot is hidden in the dark and can't be found. In the church, our outrage at the interruption is tempered by our respect for the sanctity of our surroundings. In the air, the noisy fool is within arms reach. Passenger cabins are small. They can't hide from our wrath.
The situation will be ripe for hilarity and mayhem. You're already in bad mood because you're cramped and tired and vainly trying to sleep. You're jet lagged and still smarting from having to strip down to your underwear to comply with the latest ineffective security measure. Add the effect of a few drinks at 30,000 ft and the scene is set for fisticuffs in the aisles and determined attempts to shove the tiny cell phone down the throat of the offending party.
The bottom line is this, adding cell phones to flights will further decrease the quality of the travel experience. It will erode the safety of passengers in general. Irritable passengers attempting to sleep will not take kindly to the inevitable barrage of loud conversations throughout the flight. Polite requests to either stop using the phone or to talk quietly will be met with predictable hand gestures and will generate equally predicable responses. But we will add this technology to flights anyway... either because we're incapable of seeing the unintended consequences or because we don't care about those consequences.
The question to all of us is this. When do we start thinking about how technology changes our lives for the worse and start acting on that knowledge? Or are we destined to forever
be at the mercy of technology?
Peter de Jager – Peter is passionate about change, how it affects both
individuals and organizations and allows them to grow and prosper. To contact him, and
host internal seminars on Change Management visit www.technobility.com
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