In some ways people today are no different in our “conditioned reflexes” than Pavlov’s dog. A quick recap: Ivan Pavlov studied psychology and famously researched learned behaviors on various subjects. One of his most well-known subjects was a dog who was fed at the same time as a bell (or other stimulus) was rung. The dog eventually equated the ringing of the bell with food and therefore began to salivate with anticipation of eating when a bell would ring. Equating this same sort of trained reflex to humans is easy with the cellular phone as our point of focus. If the phone rings, beeps, vibrates or even if it does none of these things, people are quick to grab a hold of their device and tune out the rest of the world. We are in servitude to technology.
The other day, a friend of mine said when we were discussing the integration of technology into our lives, he tells people, “This is for my convenience, not yours”. I really enjoyed that sentiment when he shared it with me, and the more I think about it, the more I like it. For the sake of brevity, I will focus this topic just on the communication aspect of cellular phones, not all the other fun stuff. The purpose of the cellular phone when it was developed for the general public was to aid in communication away from home. It is hard to remember a time when phones were mounted on kitchen walls, tethered with a curly cord that was forever tangled up. When you were not home, you just missed the phone call. I also know that there were many times, especially dinner time, when the phone was not to be touched. If someone called, they would just have to call back later. Now, if the cellular phone is not right next to the dinner plate, it is sitting in someone’s lap waiting to be picked up again at a moment’s notice or on a counter where there will be elbows to the face, knees to a groin and probably bloodshed to get over the table to reach the ringing phone.
Like Pavlov’s dog, we used to be in control of our own senses and reflexes around a ringing phone. It did not take long for us to react without thinking, as if it is a bodily need instead of a controlled action. Now we are almost in bondage to our cellular phones. Is it so hard to believe that if someone calls, we do NOT have to answer the phone, or if someone sends us a text message, we are not absolutely required to respond immediately? This is a hard concept because many people live their lives through the communication on their phone. People will literally sit right next to each other yet text instead of speak. Think about the impact that has on our ability to communicate – both sending and receiving. I believe we lose some of our ability and vocabulary when we believe “r u ok” is the correct way to ask how someone is doing; our friends and colleagues are no longer able to articulate their needs to us if all they get as a response is “k”. It is not just the words but the tone, inflection, facial expression or maybe just a simple hug that can say so much more than a (winky face).
Turning this around for a moment, think about those around us who see more of the tops of our heads, instead of our faces, as we endlessly stare at our phones either texting or talking. The implication is the person we are communicating with on our phone is more important to us than whoever is in the same room. That phone (and the other person) has our undivided attention; so I have a hard time understanding how can we maintain our “real” relationships at that point. I am not going to pretend I’ve never done it, but I know that after this point, I will be more aware of my reflex response to my phone. Cellular phones allow us to be more accessible but that does not equate to a substitution for in-person dialogue. My friend is right. The phone is for my convenience and maybe the convenience of my employers (if they pay for my phone). Otherwise, I am free to live life without being tied to a ring, bell or buzz.
CEO, The Professional Development Team