The Peace of No Ringtones: Jan 5 2014


We haven’t together been to a family-movie for quite some time; there’s always that conflict of schedules, and to complicate matters, there are rarely movies that a eighteen and an eight-year old want to sit through together, for ninety minutes.

Saving Mr. Banks, the tear-jerking, funny and soulful Disney movie, is an occasion to cherish with my two lovely daughters; just as important: for those two hours, I turn my cell-phone off.

As a parent, it often feels that it’s impossible to turn-off your mobile phone!

You feel this nagging need of being wired – knowing – and most importantly availing information about your children.

At the beginning of team-meetings, I often ask my colleagues to mute their cell phones and ask them to refrain from answering, unless it’s a family emergency.

During a date, sometimes, I forewarn the other party, that I do check my phone during an intimate dinner or while watching a play – just because I have kids! My notification comes like the warning from the Surgeon General on a packet of contraband nicotine.

In this world of wired anxiety, our minds often race to juggle quadratic challenges like work, childcare, healthcare and entertainment – all in one swoop, we feel the need and urgency to remain informed – to feel that we are constantly in the loop of things.

If we look back fifteen or so years, mobile phones were rare and bulky – and you had to wait to get all your news until you got to work or home – you didn’t start solving your problems at red-lights.

All this mobility and constancy, may have given us more up-to-date information – and in some cases, ability to solve some urgent problems quickly; however, coupled with our own inability to know when it’s urgent to solve problems, and when it’s ok to wait, I argue, it has also notched up our anxiety levels on unimportant things.

What you don’t know, really can’t hurt you.

Why do we need to know every movement of our children (or parents) or other loved ones on a constant basis; what is the value of this “new” need we have created for ourselves?

In some instances, this anxiety over receiving information, borders the comical.

On my recent visit to Bangladesh, I have lunch or breakfast with some of my “VIP” friends; invariably, they carry multiple cell-phones, chargers and other PDAs, in their expensive leather carriers, as if during a foggy 8:30 am breakfast meeting, over coffee, somehow some massively urgent phone-deal will emerge. One such person tells me, he has one cell phone exclusively for his boss and another one just for his wife – I am relieved to hear that his third cell phone is for common connections like myself!

Looking at the growth projections of mobility technology worldwide, I am convinced the ship for simpler times, when cell phones were rare, has sailed long ago. We might as well, get accustomed to constant mobility-anxiety in our lives.

The question remains, when to turn that cell phone off – or when to hit that “ignore” button during a seemingly involved and often important conversation of life.

I have a rule with my children – if it’s urgent, call me on my mobile twice. I will know that it’s critical to take the call if possible, or call you back  if I see two missed calls.

Maybe one day our smart phones will be smart enough to classify and we can choose separate ring-tones for calls as “critical/urgent”, “important but can wait” and “calls from Mom to check on your weather pattern!”

Just like any other Disney movie, Saving Mr. Banks, ends on a happy-joyous note; we stroll out of the dark theatre discussing the parallels and nuances of the plot and contemplate who wants to have what, for a late lunch.

I don’t turn my cell phone on for another thirty or so minutes, enjoying the peace with the most important people in my life.

There is a certain peace in this ringtone-free world; it maybe temporary and short, but I enjoy the giggling of my girls and the sound of the rain-drops on my windshield for just a few more minutes.

You learn to make the best of whatever time is afforded to you, without the interruptions of the outside world.


3 thoughts on “The Peace of No Ringtones: Jan 5 2014

  1. All good points my friend but you left out two of the most damaging effects of our addiction to the instantaneous stimulation of our cell phones.

    First we are so often fixated on the potential alarms of the electronic world that we rob ourselves of the opportunity to make meaningful connections. This is particularly troubling when we are in important one on one situations. Be it an exciting new date, a lunch with a long time friend, or an important business meeting… what does it say about their importance to us when we look at our incoming calls, much less when we answer? It conveys that the prospect of the unknown is more important than fulfilling the connection at the moment.

    Think of how you feel when meeting someone you really want to connect with… only for them to be preoccupied with their electronic PDA. It probably makes you feel lesser than, perhaps like just another transactional experience. Contrast that with the feeling of someone who is focused entirely on you and who does’t seem to care about replying to any buzzing, chirping or electronic infused renditions of Mozart… it likely makes you feel important.

    Empowering and connecting with others is one of the greatest gifts we can give one each other. Making others feel like they are your center of attention and interest is a powerful part of the process of really building long term quality relationships. We rob ourselves of this when are focused on the electronic world to the detriment of quality human interaction.

    I’ve had the privilege to meet some very accomplished people in my life including notable business and government leaders as well as some who helped stimulate social change. As I reflect back on these personalities and interactions there are no cell phones. They were all charismatic. They were all focused in the interaction and making the most of their time with me and the others around us. They were focused on building human connections… not on showing off how important they were by the number of interruptions.

    The second thing we lose is the ability to have quality time to visualize the long term. All the great ideas in the world, be it art, new businesses, technology inventions, social change and more were constructed twice. Once in real life and once before in someone’s imagination. We need the ability to dream about the future. It is where we have the opportunity to be brilliant.

    Imagine a writer or composer, or even you as a business leader, trying to come up with the next best, big idea… where do you want to be? Amid a sea of incoming calls or alone in an environment void of interruption?

    Of course we want to be connected. But when the electronic tool becomes the master of our actions we have lost. I thank you for your thoughts… it certainly stimulated me to reflect how I want to focus in 2014 and beyond.

    I want to be more accessible to others I am with in person than accessible to the electronic world of anyone who has my number. I want to think more about PDAs as public displays of affection more than personal data assistants. I want to dream more and answer less.

    1. Car. Thanks for your thoughts. I agree with you wholeheartedly. I want to dream and answer less too. I just came back from church. This morning I forgot my cellphone at home. It was great. I was focused on myself, my energy from the Universe and my two girls! From now on I want to forget my cellphone on Sundays!!

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