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Stupid Things Done By Smart Phones

08 November 2011

Today we find ourselves bombarded by an enormous amount of information.  Our lives are rich with opportunities, information and ways of conducting our business and social lives using multiple technological methods.  However, despite the enormous efficiency afforded by emails, mobile phones, social media and other technologies, the sheer overwhelm resulting from the volume of information is enough to have us leaving the city and fleeing to the mountains.  As a communications expert, I am particularly interested in the implications for relationships, connection and community of our face-paced technological lives. It is smart phone usage particularly that I explore in this discussion, since its immediacy highlights the disadvantages as well as advantages of other modern communications technologies.  


The extent of the problem

All communication comprises two aspects:  Information passing and relationship building.  Smart phones score highly on the sheer speed and breadth of information that can be gleaned and conveyed to someone or somewhere else, viz:

•Surfing the Internet from any location that offers a wireless connection

•Doing your banking on the run

•Forwarding files without waiting until you return to the office


The list goes on…..

However, despite our efficiency, texting and responding ‘on the run’ has major implications for the quality of our relationships and the amount of credit that is often deducted from the relationship bank in the name of efficiency.  The lack of non-verbal cues (NVC) leaves the receiver of information to make up their own mind as to the intention behind the message.  Huge assumptions can be made about the person using the smart phone.  In each of the following situations, the observer is left to their own devices as to what something means, what someone’s intentions are or even enduring personality factors they possess:

•Cancelling a meeting without having to make direct contact.

•Texting just before a time of meeting to say ‘I’m on my way’.

•Not being present but constantly distracted by incoming messages.

•Texting whilst driving.

•Having intimate or heated conversations in public.

•Answering the phone over dinner or with others.

•Predictive texting that results in sending inappropriate messages.

•Answering the phone whilst in bed with someone else.

•Informality used in texting with scant regard for the status of the receiver.

We are all familiar with these examples and our reactions to them will be different as and when they occur.  The reality is that with no context or non-verbal information to hand, we are left to our own devices as to the meaning we place on the qualities, intention or values of the individual using the smart phone.  

In a recent webinar I ran ‘Lost in Translation’ , (,  100% of my listeners said that they found people who obsessively reacted to text messages highly annoying.  The word ‘obsessive’ may not be an overstatement here since the British Association of Counselling now has ‘Texting’ quoted as an addiction, since so many people experience anxiety and distress when denied the ability to immediately check texts.  

There may be generational differences in how people use smart phones and the insensitivity to the context or person receiving the information. Younger people accustomed to using technology in communication may be bewildered as to why an older person would be irritated by the use of texting in certain circumstances.  Boundaries, etiquette and protocol may be affronted when a younger person communicates by text or mobile phone in traditionally formal situations.  For example, in one survey, quoted in Psychology Today magazine, 24 per cent of respondents said it was ‘OK to dump someone via a text message’ - and 26 per cent had done so. Whatever your personal views are on this, the maxim of ‘Treat others as you would have them treat you’, would seem to be a wise piece of advice here.   For the related on article on relationship breakup and etiquette, see

For example, as a psychologist a client may text me to say they are late for a meeting.  Traditionally, this would have been inappropriate; instead the person would not have communicated with a psychologist or doctor until they were face to face.  Informality arises in these circumstances that the older generation may find disrespectful – and assumptions then develop as to the qualities, intentions or values of the sender.  

It is not always the case that this immediacy and direct contact is problematic.  At a recent Ruby Connection lunch, Gail Kelly of Westpac Bank herself indicated that anyone in the organisation can contact her directly.   This opportunity reflects a more open and collaborative culture, increasing communication to the top that previously might have been stymied through the organisational layers.  Whilst I celebrate the greater equalisation in power that direct contact allows people, it is clear that it takes for a very open-minded person to challenge themselves when they go into story-telling about the person overstepping the boundaries and etiquette in communication.  


Smart Phone Tips to Maximise Communication

•Keep for conveying information, not feelings

•Don’t have critical conversations by phone or text

•Take care – deleted texts are stored even when deleted

•Use the work mobile wisely – text and phone as if your boss was listening

•Consider boundaries and etiquette in terms of who you are contacting

•Beware of predictive texting and check all messages before sending

•Consider if abbreviated words in texting are appropriate e.g. ‘c u later’


So remember to take care when communicating via today’s technology.  The most important thing is never to have difficult or crucial conversations via text, mobile, email or on social media.  Despite the efficiency and speed with which we can convey information – in business or pleasure – we must always remember that relationships are at stake.  To truly build relationships, you must invest in spending time with the person face to face.  If this is not possible (as distance doesn’t allow) you must adopt sophisticated questioning and empathic skills to check out that the medium of your message via technology doesn’t overdraw your relationship building account.



  • Ann Margulis

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  • Clare Mann

    Clare Mann 8 years ago

    How true Peter - it doesn't matter how 'smart' our gadgets get, I guess it never replaces sitting across from someone over a coffee and talking! However, where would be without our phones! Ha!

  • Peter Taliangis

    Peter Taliangis 8 years ago

    I totally agree with most points in your article. There will always be a few drawbacks from the use of smart phones even though they are very convenient.