Technology and Expectations: The Cell Phone

The advances in technology over the past 20 years have been phenomenal. Shoot, even the past 5 years have been incredible. We seem to be making every piece of technology faster, smaller, stronger and cooler than previously thought possible. Now we have things like cell phones, PDA’s, laptops, wifi… just about anything that can connect you to your work anytime, anywhere. Yes, our quest for optimal productivity and portability has made us much more productive than the antiquated model of 9 to 5 and an “office” phone.

Or has it?

I wrote an article on Friday about my computer fast, and it had tremendous response over the web. The article actually made it to the front page of digg (and instantly crashed my server, yay Digg effect!). I had no idea that the article would have such an impact, but because it did means something struck a chord with a lot of people. Basically, the fact that somebody could actually shut off their computer after 6pm was something quite novel to a lot of people. Why? Because we use the computer for everything; work and play. The lines between the two have been blurred. You have to make hard edges if you want to be productive.

Studies have shown that workers who worked 9-10 hour days only were productive for about half the time. The longer you work, the less productive you become.

So now you are starting to see the problem: We use a lot of our technology for both work and recreation; yet the longer we work the less we get done.

The Cell Phone

The cell phone has been a HUGE advancement over the traditional LAN line. A portable phone the size of a credit card (sometimes smaller!) can be used almost anywhere (depending on your provider). Ultimately, this means more people can become connected at more times. Or a math equation:

More People + More Places + More Availability = Cell Phone

However, this type of thinking can quickly turn against us. Now bosses and clients think that if they have your cell phone digits, it’s ok to call past the traditional working hours of the day. Because we’ve “advanced” our technology to go beyond the phone located in our offices, we’ve invited it into our personal lives.

Gotta Keep ’em Seperated

So how do we fix this? We start to firm up our flabby edges that seperate work and everything else. Boundaries have to be set and kept.
Oh, and there’s always going to be the “I know you don’t usually answer the phone but it’s an emergency!” call, when it’s really not and emergency. Switch to voicemail. That’ll teach ’em. And if it truly is an emergency, call them back. I bet 99% of the time it won’t.

[If you’re worried about listening to too many voicemails, you can check out SpinVox, which converts your voicemail’s to SMS and email messages. I do a lot of my project management with the incredible firefox extension GTDGmail, so I use GotVoice to send my voicemail’s to my email. So far it works great, and I can keep track of everything easier.]

What about the people who are your friends/clients who call after hours? Here’s my rule. If the incoming call is going to be work related and not terribly important, I don’t answer. In order for this to work every aspect of work needs to be shut out early on. I know this method doesn’t work in some circumstances and settings yada yada yada… but it can probably work with most people. Don’t be closed minded into thinking that this positively could not work for you. Just try it, and see what happens. You’ll be surprised at the results :)

A few decades ago this invasion into our home life would not have happened. Why should it happen now, just because technoligically we’re able to?

Leave a Comment

{ 13 comments… add one }
  • transex June 9, 2007, 2:10 pm

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  • Al September 27, 2006, 9:11 pm

    I totally love my blackberry. Not from the point of view that I text message all day, or do other completely useless things like that, but the fact that it is mobile note taking that I can email to my self. I find it increadibly useful. Plus the agenda feature and the phone do not hurt.

  • Ririan September 20, 2006, 2:20 pm

    By the way in China a man was hit by lightning on the Great Wall and authorities, not for the first time, say using a mobile phone makes you a target for lightning!!

    What about that? :)

  • glen September 20, 2006, 12:37 pm


    Good tips on how to keep your phone usage down. Maybe I just don’t have the best people skills, but I usually just don’t answer :)

  • Ririan September 20, 2006, 4:12 am

    I agree, in our time telephones are both the greatest time savers and time wasters. And to avoid becoming a slave to your phone, you must control your calls, rather than being controlled by your callers.

    We’re all afraid an important call will be missed if we don’t pick up the phone. You may miss an important call, but you will be able to complete the job at hand. After all, if you are out in the field, you couldn’t pick up the phone.

    Keeping calls short, when possible, is also important. The opening line can set the tone for the conversation. You can say, ‘Hi, Glen, I’m calling to ask you just a few questions’, rather than ‘I haven’t talked with you for awhile, how are things going?’ So keep conversations short.

    Thank you for the reminder.