I like to watch people due to my inquisitive nature. I've done a lot of it lately having moved to the city center where there is nonstop action. It wasn't long before I noticed the staggering number of folks downtown who go about their day with their attention completely absorbed in their smartphone.
I see people shuffling down the street with the phone in hand. You've no doubt seen the same wherever you might live. These folks are not paying much attention to their immediate surroundings. It's all about the phone in the hand.
Coffee shops and lunch spots are even worse, with both individual patrons and small groups sitting together, all oblivious to everyone else, concentrating on whatever is displaying on the tiny screen in the hand.
It's such a common sight that my inquisitive nature got the better of me. I admit I've been making a nuisance of myself, approaching one person after another and asking about their smartphone obsession.
I wanted to know if their constant connection was for work or personal reasons? Did they feel the need to keep up with goings-on in the office, or were they checking up on their online friends? The answers I received were all of the above.
The names below are all fictitious as I don't want to embarrass anyone. The conversations were quite real, as are the quotes I've included.
Are these folks using the smartphone to keep up with work?
Bob: "Usually. It's the only way I can keep up with the constant stream of email from clients and coworkers. I feel that I must be aware when some important situtation requires my attention, no matter where I might be".
Sally: "Not often. I like to keep up with my friends on Facebook and know if anything cool is happening. Most of these people are friends in real life, and it's good to keep up with them. I feel stressed if something big happens to one of my friends and I don't know about it right away".
Johan: "About half and half, work and personal. I usually start checking work email and then end up doing personal stuff."
A common theme from many I spoke to was the need to check up on work. There is a feeling that if they aren't online all the time, keeping on top of work email, that they will be viewed as not doing a great job. I was surprised how many people feel under the gun to be seen as always available, always responsive to work issues.
Many of these folks, regular folks all, applied this same dedication for work communication to their personal lives. Some felt they had to know everything going on with their friends, and as soon as it happened. I was surprised how many people indicated the 'need' to know what their friends and family are doing.
It was also common to hear that being online a lot was how many people stayed on top of breaking news during the day. Big stories spread quickly on Facebook and other social networks, and this has become a common news source. People are spending less time listening to the radio or watching news on TV. The smartphone has become their primary source of news throughout the day.
I am surprised how many people I run across that, while they might not be feel obsessed with their smartphone, they are admittedly obsessed with keeping in touch with every aspect of their lives. The smartphone has become the way many do that.
With so many people staying connected to work and personal happenings all the time, the need for down time is more acute. Several people lamented to me they feel overwhelmed at times due to the constant barrage of information coming at them. They didn't feel they could put the phone down, however.
Managers who require employees to be available all the time should stop that. Those who don't should realize that many workers are doing it out of a feeling of desperation. Make sure your staff puts the phones down out of the office, that it won't affect their jobs. Then follow through with that properly.