Have smart phones become too smart for business and social communication?

A little while back our talented young blogger Jes Edgson offered her perspective on why people of her age are obsessed with their cell phones. If you haven’t read it yet, go have a look at The thing about my generation. Jes’s latest piece will be published tomorrow. But it’s obviously not just the youthful folk who have a “thing” about their phones. Rael Solomon, old enough to be Jes’s grandfather, is his usual forthright self in this thought-provoking article.  

By Rael Solomon*

The impact of cell phones on our ability to communicate was immediate and very positive, especially in South Africa where the majority of the population had no access to land lines. Cell phones, however, brought with them some negatives:

  • Users started to interrupt face to face communications by making or answering calls during discussions.
  • Well written letters were replaced by “short form” sms’s using what can only be described as gibberish

    Rael Solomon: An engineer turned labour consultant who steered Moneyweb and I  through turbulent waters for more than a decade.
    Rael Solomon: Has had enough of people in meetings who pay more attention to their mobiles than human beings. Haven’t we all?
  • Meals are interrupted by diners taking calls and, in many instances, the very fabric of social intercourse is all but put aside for a needless call.
  • Calls are taken in the movies and even at funerals

This pattern of behaviour has impacted negatively on business meetings where cell phones are often not switched off or placed on silent mode. The silent, vibrating mode is almost more insidious than a ringing phone which is just plain rude. Once alerted to an “urgent,” silent incoming call, which of course has to be taken, the flow of the discussion is interrupted.

The arrival of the smart phones with emails at your fingertips and internet searches for information that could wait, further exacerbates the situation. To top it all, conversation about the merits of the different cell phone brands and their features often dominates proceedings. Iphone 5 versus Samsung S4 replaces an agenda lost in the interrupted proceedings.

The old fashioned well constructed and edited business letter is often replaced by a hurried epistle which fails to address many of the required issues. Spelling goes out the window, grammar is poor and professionalism suffers. Many users of these smart phones simply don’t have the ability to use them appropriately.

The old maxim applies – to be clever is great, to be too clever is another story.

* Rael Solomon Pr Eng is a professional engineer who specialises in labour and business law. You can email him direct at [email protected]

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