The other day I scored major points with my son. He indirectly mentioned his concern about my iPhone obsession by commenting about how another soccer mom watched her phone more than the game.

“She’s reaaaaaaally manic about her phone, Mom,” he eyed me closely. He was looking for hand tremors, involuntary eye-twitching or anything to reveal whether or not I could take on his veiled challenge. (To my defense, I do watch his games, not my phone, but it is usually in my pocket, tugging at my thoughts even as I focus on the field).

In an effort to prove him I could do without my phone not only on the sidelines, but also in life, I snapped it off mid-day in the middle of my work week and headed for the pool.

“Looks like it’s going to be a hot one. And look, Son, I’m leaving my phone at home.” He raised not one, but both eyebrows as he watched me turn it off completely and calmly place it in the cupboard.

Can you hear the slot machine go ka-ching? Yes, I scored big with him that day. And you know what? Instead of drawing my attention to my phone screen, I had plenty of time to watch other people do it instead.

Is that really what I do all day? I watched people cling to their devices like an emphesymic patient to his oxygen tank. Because I knew my phone was at home, I felt more energetic, as if that holding pattern of “what is someone calls/texts/emails me” had been eradicated. And in truth, it had.

It appears many more of us are engaging in digital distractions than not these days.

My Wall Street trader friend on Twitter @StalinCruz pointed out an article about distracted walking that underscores our often harmful obsession with smartphones. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, 1,152 Americans have been injured in handheld digital device-related events while walking in the past few years. A man recently fell onto the train tracks in Philadelphia while playing with his phone. Luckily, he was not seriously injured, but it shows how all-consuming our electronics have become that we don’t even notice the danger of our own behavior.

A University of Maryland study spanning six years found 116 cases in which pedestrians were killed or seriously injured while wearing headphones, two-thirds of whom were men under the age of 30. Fifty percent of the cases involved trains, while 33% were incidents in which a warning horn was sounded just before the accident.

Believe it or not, I have friends who leave their cellphones behind when we meet. We enjoy hours-long conversations without the need to cache, photograph or Facebook every moment we spend together for their broader network. I find when I’m with people who’d rather update their social media status than update me on their lives, it is a classic cocktail party experience in which they are looking over your shoulder for someone better to interact with. It’s distracting at best. And in the case of walking, talking and texting, it can be lethal too.

Take the no phone zone challenge today. Leave that mobile behind and reconnect with people in the flesh with your eyes, ears and fingertips at the ready for a real, not virtual, human interaction. Turning on to life is worth it.

Trust me on this one.

 

 

Remember when phones were large and looked like this?

A replica of my first telephone

 

We have moved on from the early 1980s when rotary was the norm and push-button was for ultra-modern folks. I had a phone just like the one pictured above. I paid $1.50 a month and shared the phone with my sisters. Those were the days.

Today our kids clog the talkwaves wherever they are. Only they usually aren’t talking, but typing.

According to a Vondane Mobile survey, texting and calling habits vary drastically between individuals ages 13-24 and 25+. Here are some highlights:

  • Nine percent of people ages 13-24 send over 1000 text messages a week. (My thumbs hurt just reading this, much less typing it.)
  • The majority of teens/young adults age 13-24 only make between 1-5 calls a week. (And usually not to Grandma, but to their friends ~ at least at my house!)
  • Seventy-six percent of parents keep track of the number of calls/texts their children make. (I wouldn’t go near my daughter’s cell phone. “It’s like my diary, Mom. Hands off!” Okay…)
  • The majority of those surveyed say cost is the most important consideration when deciding on cell phone service. (Agreed.)
  • Seventy-five percent of those surveyed own an iPhone or Android phone.

Below is the state of telecommunications today. Where do you land on this spectrum? Text like a teen? Are you a Scrooge on Skype?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WBUR aired a fantastic interview yesterday with the Wall Street Journal‘s Katherine Rosman, Naomi Baron, author of Always On, and Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project. The topic? The changing nature of our communication.

The way we communicate with each other today has dramatically changed. Based on Katherine’s recent findings as reported in the Wall Street Journal, 13-17 years old send an average of 3339 text messages a month. Even in the 45-54 year old demographic, texting is up 75% (to an average of 300 per month).

At the outset of the interview, Katherine rightly points to the reasons behind people’s unwillingness to actually talk on the phone:

“People don’t want to be on the phone when, heaven forbid, they might actually get stuck in a conversation that goes beyond what they originally intended. They don’t want small talk. They just want to get and receive the data they need and go about their multitasking, distracted days.”

Wow. And so true.

For anyone who’s been face to face with a text-messaging pal, it can feel pretty isolating.

Naomi Baron, whom I interviewed a while ago here, addressed the loss of people’s attention today. Calling in from Copenhagen, she stated:

“We no longer notice that we’re not as engaged as we could be if we were just listening to the other person. Voice-to-voice on the phone. Voice-to-voice, face-to-face.”

Are we losing our ability to actually interact with other people on a personal level? I’m wondering if we are.

Lee Rainie summarized the conversation beautifully when he suggested how “we are rearranging the landscape of communication…we are reallocating our communications patterns.”

In response to a private conversation my PR colleagues and I were having about this topic (yes, via email!) , Herdon, VA-based PR professional Diane Johnson said, “We’re cultivating a culture of mushroom people who want to sit in front of their computer or on their PDAs and believe using their fingers (while keeping them off each other) counts as human interaction.”

As parents, we must teach our children etiquette and Net’iquette so our ability to communicate not just words, but their meaning, too, is not lost in our collective digital distraction.

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If you’ve ever been to airports with automated speed walk sidewalks, you’ll observe that about fifteen feet before the sidewalk ends, you hear a voice alerting you to your pending expulsion from it. Not so for real sidewalks on the street.

Photo courtesy of Ohio State College of Engineering

According to a New York Times report, a recent Ohio State University study about texting while walking and the 1000 reported injuries incurred by texting walkers points to an increasing issue of pedestrian traffic safety.  Ohio State University’s Transportation and Parking department is trying to offset the rising epidemic by putting up signs such as the one pictured here.

Or, as I like to say, “You text? You’re next.” That goes for pedestrians as well as drivers.

I can see it now. Sidewalks will soon be equipped with textured flooring just to alert texting pedestrians that a curb is approaching. Or maybe they’ll have recordings of soothing, yet urgent voices like the ones at today’s airports, pointing the way to safety and attention.

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