Time was when businessmen looked forward to long airplane flights as an opportunity to relax, get some sleep or catch up on readings that had been neglected due to busy work schedules.
At 40,000 feet, an altitude then considered beyond the range of traditional means of communication, the business executive could temporarily forget the worries in the office and enjoy the infinite wonders of the sky.
Not anymore. The silence in the cabin has been broken by the cell phone that, except during takeoff and landing, has made him accessible to anyone who wants to get in touch with him while he is airborne. Of course, he can shut off his cell phone and pretend that the people he left behind in the office can handle any problem that may arise without them having to consult him.
But try telling that to an executive who is hands-on in running the business or reports to somebody higher in the corporate ladder.
The temporary loss of contact can be psychologically disconcerting or may result in a reprimand from a superior who wants his subordinates to answer his call 24/7 regardless of the time zone they are in. With the latest technology, cell phones have ceased to be purely for voice or text communications. Aptly described as smart phones, these gizmos allow their users to call, send and receive e-mail, surf the Internet and perform a myriad of activities associated with desk computers.
Thus, no businessman, or for that matter, anybody, can (truthfully) claim to be out of reach or beyond contact, unless he is in a place that digital signals cannot penetrate. Neither can cost be invoked for not taking or sending calls or e-mails.
With the lower charges brought about by competition, expense is no longer considered a deterrent for getting in touch with anyone anywhere in the world. The affordability of cell phones, not to mention their expanded utility, has spawned a love affair, if not an addiction, with them.
Remember that erstwhile popular American Express card advertisement that reads, “Don’t leave home without it”? That statement squarely applies to today’s cell phone. It’s considered an integral part of our daily life.
Failure or forgetting to bring it along when stepping out of the house or going elsewhere has become a cause for panic. The forgetful cell phone addict feels naked, out of touch or helpless without it. The feeling is no different from that of a chain smoker or alcoholic who finds himself without a cigarette or alcohol within reach when the urge to puff or drink hits him. For some, the cell phone has become a security blanket of sorts that has to be within reach while sleeping, eating or going through the routine of daily living. It is a ubiquitous presence even (or especially) in the most private places that a person goes to at certain times of the day.
Businessmen whose fortunes depend on the fluctuation of the prices of stocks, oil, precious metals and other tradable commodities in different parts of the world are notorious for the habit of checking, upon waking up, their cell phones for the latest reports of Bloomberg and other financial news websites. If the facts and figures are favorable, their day starts on a good footing; if not, the rest of their day is ruined.
The love affair with the cell phone is not diminished even in the presence of peers or colleagues. During business meetings, attendees often, out of habit, check their cell phones for incoming text or e-mail. The subtle way to do it is to cover the cell phone with papers or put it under the table and take a peek at it when the boss is not looking or the rest of the group has its attention elsewhere. Even social cum business activities are not exempt from this compulsive behavior. Although etiquette calls for keeping their hands off cell phones during these events, the urge to break this rule between bites is simply irresistible, more so if the conversation is boring. In the latter instance, pretending to answer a call and moving away (and not coming back) has proven to be an effective way to end the agony.
The efficiency and convenience of the text message and e-mail systems have, by default, extinguished the difference between official working hours and rest periods. Today, a business colleague or transacting party need not wait for the usual business hours before he can talk to or get in touch with whomever he wants to do business with. In the middle of the night or early morning, depending on the nocturnal habits of the sending party, a text message or e-mail can be sent, no matter how ungodly the hour may be.
For workaholics and people who feel insecure if they do not feel they are needed by others, that 24/7 facility of access is a boon. It’s ego boosting. Hooray, I’m in demand! I’m so important that others cannot wait for regular office hours to get in touch with me!
Not so for people who believe there is more to life than office work or professional advancement, and that rest days and holidays are meant to be spent with the family and to rest tired minds and muscles. If the subject matter of the text or e-mail is really urgent or would spell the difference between collapse and survival of the business, the intrusion into a person’s private hours may be justified. But if it’s routine or can wait for a better hour, it’s unfair to people who want to live normal lives.
When a person tolerates the sending of text messages or e-mail to him during his private time—either by responding to them or opening his e-mail box—he is, in effect, sending the message that his private life is at other people’s disposal.
At the end of the day, it’s up to the person to decide whether he wants digital technology to be his slave or be a slave to it.
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