“Every Moment Counts”

By James Kwak

No, it’s not a line from a pop song. It’s part of my hopeless, Luddite anti-smart phone campaign. This is from an interview with Tachi Yamada, president of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Health Program.

“When you actually are with somebody, you’ve got to make that person feel like nobody else in the world matters. I think that’s critical.”So, for example, I don’t have a mobile phone turned on because I’m talking to you. I don’t want the outside world to impinge on the conversation we’re having. I don’t carry a BlackBerry. I do my e-mails regularly, but I do it when I have the time on a computer. I don’t want to be sitting here thinking that I’ve got an e-mail message coming here and I’d better look at that while I’m talking to you. Every moment counts, and that moment is lost if you’re not in that moment 100 percent.”

Yamada is just one person; because he feels this way doesn’t prove that you should, too. But I bet some of you will agree with him, and will start switching your BlackBerrys off when you are talking to other people. But over time, you will find yourself leaving it on, and then you will find yourself surreptitiously checking it under the table. It’s like chocolate ice cream; it’s too hard to say no to.

45 thoughts on ““Every Moment Counts”

  1. You can have a smart phone and still make the other person feel like nobody else matters. If that’s not the case, it’s your fault, not the phone’s.

  2. Agree with Manshu. Predicating your actions on “how you make somebody else feel” is smarmy at best and deceptive at worst. If you actually have respect for someone, your actions will reflect so naturally.

    This has nothing to do with your phone.

  3. Good for you, James. I think you are right, and you have bravely identified something which, like the “say it in a sound bite” rule, is making our society superficial and hyper.

  4. Nemo –“predicating your actions on ‘how you make somebody else feel'” is smarmy at best and deceptive at worst”

    . . and how’s your marriage doing, buddy? I suppose words like “considerate” are for losers, right?

  5. I agree more with James here than with the earlier commentators, though everyone’s got a point. Yes, you should be able to exercise self-control; and yes, if you fail to make your conversation partner feel like the only person in the world, you’ve failed; and yes, some people don’t have the ability to exercise that control. Those people should probably refuse to carry such a phone, just as dieters should probably leave ice cream out of the house.

    At the same time, I think we all know that time is not on James’s side. There are just too many reasons to carry a phone with more than voice functions. I’m going to carry a music device of some sort with me; and if I’m going to do that, why carry a *separate* device?

    At the very least, any phone you buy nowadays is going to have SMS capabilities. SMS is very handy; I wouldn’t want to be without it, though there was a time in my life when I thought people were silly for texting. And SMS, for me anyway, turns out to be endlessly distracting. I’m in the middle of a conversation and someone texts or calls me; I’m very tempted to reply or to pick up.

    For me, turning off the ringer gets me most of the way to where I want to be.

  6. “I don’t like people who speak or think in terms of gaining anybody’s confidence. If one’s actions are honest, one does not need predated confidence of others, only their rational perception.”
    –Francisco d’Anconia, Atlas Shrugged

    I think this is similar to what Nemo was thinking mondo. Also, I wouldn’t be surprised at your being a wife beater given the fact that you seem to get your jollies from pot shots that are uncalled for, much like marital abuse.

  7. Tachi Yamada wrote:

    Every moment counts, and that moment is lost if you’re not in that moment 100 percent.”

    Charles Baudelaire wrote:

    “We are weighed down, every moment, by the conception and the sensation of Time. And there are but two means of escaping and forgetting this nightmare: pleasure and work. Pleasure consumes us. Work strengthens us. Let us choose.”

    (1821 – 1867)

  8. (Slightly off-topic, for a moment that counts)

    MARCH 1, 2010 – Greece Bailout Plan Takes Shape – Wall Street Journal – excerpt

    “A plan led by Germany and France to bail out Greece with as much as €30 billion ($41 billion) in aid began to take shape amid intense and risky jockeying between Athens and Berlin over timing and terms. Greek officials said they expected to seal a deal by Friday, when Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou meets in Berlin with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, but senior German officials insisted a bailout wasn’t imminent. Greece needs to borrow around €54 billion this year. It so far has raised €13 billion. Greece has about €23 billion in debt payments to make in April and May.

    Even if the German and French entities agreed to buy half of a new debt sale totaling €30 billion, that still would leave a massive amount for public bond investors to buy.

    …. a person familiar with the debt sale said the hope is that a high enough yield—and the fact that such a large sale would be seen as enough to truly fix Greece’s problems—would attract investors.”

    “There is definitely no such plan,” said Ulrich Wilhelm, spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel.”


  9. My biggest pet peeve? I’m standing there, ready to hand over my hard-earned cash for a product, and the clerk gives precedence to the ringing phone. “Is there someone else who can answer that,” I want to ask, “or an answering machine?”

    “My time is valuable, too,” I think, as the second phone call comes in, and I still have my cash in my hand.

    My sweetie, bless his beautiful heart, will only answer his cell phone when he’s busy or with a person if it’s me, our children, or his mother. Everyone else can leave a message, and he’ll get back directly.

    Our 20-something elder son has begun to take a similar approach to technology — it’s there to assist his life, not control it, or so he informed me today when I asked him about a website link I’d sent him.

    Thank you, James. Technology etiquette, combined with the respect of curling matches, might just make this world a happier place to live.

  10. Well, I certainly understand what James is saying, and I agree with others that it’s up to you to show self control–but I’m not giving up my Blackberry. I read Baseline Scenario every day on my Blackberry! I wouldn’t read it or several other blogs nearly as often without it.

  11. James, you’ve got it half right. To refer to your phone/blackberry throughout a conversation is not only rude, it’s stupid. It carries the suggestion that whatever electronic message is being conveyed (e.g. this blog) is more important than the human message. If that is true, cut off the human message, excuse yourself and let your fingers walk where they must. but there is no excuse for rudeness.

    The half you didn’t get right is the use of these “conveniences” while driving. I know you didn’t address it in this blog. But the fact is that not turning such devices off when you get behind the wheel is just plain dangerous to passengers and others on the road. Ban ’em, and if that doesn’t work, burn ’em. And put the perps in jail. There is nothing that device can communicate that is more importnt than human safety.

  12. I carry a phone, period, and nothing else. I avoid Facebook as much as possible, but check Twitter when on my computer. There is too much to do, period. I work, and I read this blog and couple of others. The techies are not going to get me, period. Too much useful time to waste. It’s your life; it’s my life. It’s way too short without all that dreck.

  13. We are in the blurry out of focus age of multitasking. If the person you are speaking with is truly a priority treat them as such.The “convenience” part of electronic devices is that they do not need to be given immediate constant attention. It is the users choice on what is the priority each and every moment. Making everything a priortiy, as many connected people do, means nothing becomes a priority.

    Unfortunately the users manual for the human brain does not always include that information in all models.

  14. You’ve got to be kidding me. You are anti-smart phone (because you can’t see how someone can put it down when that is the right thing to do)? And we are supposed to listen to you on financial innovation?

    Have you used a smart phone? Do you understand how empowering they can be? You’re just afraid of change, right?

  15. James, to his opinion I say “AMEN”. I am old fashioned. I believe that the addiction that the Now Generation has to their cell phones is just that, an addiction. Sorry, but I think that if you take a call or an email while involved in a relationship moment, whether with family, friend or love interest, it is bad manners, and manners are, at their core, just having respect for others. These devices are highly useful, of that I have no doubt, and that’s why they have voice mail and email, so that we can schedule response to meet the needs of our lives. To think that business is so important that the requesting party can’t wait a resonable time for a response is absurd. Life’s moments are precious, but not relative to business. Money is the root of all evil, and, in this case, most addicts are driven by greed (or it’s opposite, fear of loss). Sad for our society. Get a life, smell the roses, and put these devices in their proper perspective. And don’t put money first on your list of what makes you happy, for if you do, your life will be empty and one day you’ll look around and wonder what happened — and by then it will be too late, for you will have lost the truly important things.

  16. Just a note on multitasking. It doesn’t work in making us more effective. There has been lots of research on this, and has proven beyond a doubt that what it does is make us less effective at everything.

  17. I agree with James. For years, it has been my practice that if someone comes to my office to talk to me, and the phone rings during our conversation, I completely ignore it. I don’t even let myself stop talking to look at the display. I have the Outlook email alert disabled on my PC. It’s nothing but a distraction.
    The person in front of you has to take precedence. To me, it’s just basic respect.
    These electronic devices are tools to be used to serve our purposes. Not the other way round.
    As for Ayn Rand, since she was mentioned in previous comments, I have no use for her. To me, she is a case study in how some people respond to extreme trauma in their lives with an opposite, and equally extreme response.

  18. And it is not only about showing someone else a little respect it is also about respecting yourself a bit, turning it off, in order to be able to digest information not only ingest it.

  19. “Empowering?” What do they “empower” you to do, exactly, other than not think?

    I watch the children with their heads glued to their iPods and iPads and Blackburys and Gphones, browsing and texting and twatting (or whatever it’s called), and I think to myself, “You know, I could do that too, but I choose not to because it would make me stupid.”

    In Nemo’s Dictionary, “multi-tasker” is defined as “self-indulgent time-waster who is unable to focus his mind for more than 30 seconds”.

    “Afraid of change?” Please. Contempt is not the same as fear.

  20. Was going to post that someone of your intelligence souldn’t bother with such issues but you got some interesting discussion going

  21. I definitely agree with this post. Try to see that with Italians. People are constantly watching the display of their “not so smart” phones. They are not smart either, they pretend. Even during meetings, more or less important, you have people sending messages and reading emails showing clearly that what they have on display is more important of what the meeting is about.
    In Italy if you go to a restaurant with family with children you will see that those same parents are giving their smart phones to their children to play, so that they can get used from childhood to do what adults do during meetings and meals: watch their displays…
    I do not know about the causation relationship as to whether smart phones kill moments or people using them do. Yet I am more and more convinced that smart phones are not something that really everybody would need even for work. It does not necessarily increase your daily production, your productivity or improve the organization of your work. It’s likely for most of people rather the opposite. I tend to think that is a typical case where the offer created its demand. and people using smart phones have replaces bits of their time and intelligent thinking with bits of technology: that’s not smart either.

  22. I was going to post about this exact same scenario. I suppose one issue that goes unresolved is what if there is an actual emergency unfolding and if one’s phone is off they just won’t know about it?

  23. Personally I have an Android phone, and I’ve found that it pretty much acts as an enhancement to my life without getting in the way, but that’s because I had really good conversational skills BEFORE getting it. People that check their phones constantly and ruin conversations with them probably had crappy conversational skills before. Now they’ve just an excuse to be the way they are.

    I really don’t think technology (particularly for communication) often changes us, aside from simply magnifying whatever traits are already there. That means it can work for you, or against you, depending on how you handle it.

  24. “People that check their phones constantly and ruin conversations with them probably had crappy conversational skills before. Now they’ve just an excuse to be the way they are.”

    You are probably right. It implies that smart phone are not improving the situation of “non smart” people… Yet, the problem is not only of conversational skills. It’s also about the way you tend to organize the work and your thinking pretending that it’s more efficient and you are smarter with a smart phone. What a pleasure in reading and sending messages? Does it fill your day? It looks like if you do not receive a message or an email you are not important or your day is empty. It’s a matter of self-esteem and auto-evaluation, particularly in some job environments.

  25. I wonder . . if someone could invent a way to turn off the phone except for an override “urgent” signal ? Perhaps there could be a short secondary code which one could give to family members to be used in emergency, while all other incoming calls are quietly shifted to voice mail etc.

  26. Thank you for this. The problem is that it creates a culture in which people feel that the most important thing is who is calling them. Yes, people could push back, but the normative work and social environment of the moment tends to discourage this.

    Also agree with the earlier post that the smart phone culture only creates the illusion of productivity without really improving it.

  27. zic, your comment about clerks giving precedence to a ringing phone shows that the problem was around long before smart phones. Maybe we need to do some introspection and try to understand why we give precedence to the electronic contact. Are we just grasping at something unknown before we lose it, meanwhile taking for granted those physically present? Or is there something deeper going on ? Why exactly are the devices so demanding? Maybe it is a good thing, something new being born on the earth, and we are actually participating in a great experiment, even feeling evolutionary pressure ? Maybe by respecting the power of the urge to answer, we will understand, and control, it better. On the other hand perhaps, having invented all these machines, we are just killing ourselves trying to keep up with them. I don’t know. I try to observe the young people, as they are the ones who are going to come up with the answers.

  28. Having been responsible for 7/24 technical systems support for way too many years made me quite aware that when you answer the phone it becomes the most important thing you have to do at that moment. In the beginning we had to stay at home or provide a phone number when we were on call (being a manager I was pretty much always on call). Then we got pagers, what a blessing, we could venture out as long as there was a phone available in the area. Then came cell phones, and wow, we could go anyplace when on call. Now that I am retired I only carry a cell phone for emergencies when I go out.

    I would add to the post that it is important to show folks the courtesy of only calling their cell phones when the call is important, one should not be so arrogant as to think that anything they have to say should be everyone else’s top priority.

  29. Day after day after day after day, you take in all the IMF nanny government bs dribbling out of this blog. You wonder why your world is crumbling, and you have no use for Ayn Rand, who explained sixty years ago how and why it would happen.

    Collectivism, altruism, influence, looting, slavery. Which do you think is going to save you?

  30. Not a bunch of social Darwinist elitists, that’s for sure. I’ll go with Jesus. On these issues His words are profoundly wise. Just skip all the religionism built up around Him, and have a look.

  31. Gee, I don’t know, maybe unprecedented access to information? It’s strange how much more fruitful thinking can be when it is also informed.

    Contempt can be very hard to separate from fear, actually.

  32. The key statement in Kwak’s the blog entry is that our mobile communications devices ARE “like chocolate ice cream”. The important question is, why is this so?

    Coincidentally, I wrote a short piece on this topic entitled “The Gadget Revolution” in which I contend that “The gadgets you own will soon be you.” (http://www.3sigma.com/the-gadget-revolution-whats-in-store-for-u/)

    Human communication is centered around wrestling with problems that matter. It is a messy and stressful process. Given the chance, people will avoid the discomfort by substituting the less challenging attenuated signaling provided by digital “communication”.

    While conversation involves sensation., Tweets are sweets.

  33. I just stumbled upon this blog and as I have been reading the comments I was pleased at the high intellect of most of the posts.

    Not quite sure why you would want to ruin the moment.

    I have not read Ayn Rand thoroughly, but I seem to recall the one aspect of Ayn Rand that I disagree with is that the worlds resources are for the plundering by whomever gets to them first, even if the resources exist on other lands.

  34. We get this all the time on employee opinion surveys – on the questions like “my manager makes me feel important…” etc. The managers that are chained to their blackberrys get hit pretty hard on this. It’s OK if your people are otherwise happy and productive. When they turn sullen and desultory, well, it hurts you as a manager blackberry or no blackberry.

    I think in the future people managers (or salespeople) who learn to turn 100% of their attention to the person in front of them will seem quite exceptional – just for that quality alone.

  35. My humble suggestion is try thoroughly. As for Jesus you might as well try Marx. Karl or Groucho, your choice.

    What Ayn Rand said, in essence, is that no man is obligated to become a slave of others. Man lives by the power of his own mind, we exist as individuals.

    Human progress is largely a trickle down affair, but it does not trickle down from government schemes, which only reward the connected few and enslave the many.

    Limited government and honest money are the road to freedom. We’ve been going the other way since 1913.

  36. Having been a counsellor for many years, I know giving someone your undivided, nonjudging attention can have a powerful healing effect. This is true even if your topic of conversation has nothing to do with the other person’s problems. I think you must be an excellent manager.

  37. You could flip the argument around. Maybe the smart phone is the means to reveal the people who never cared about the moment in front of them. It also reveals those with no discipline to prioritize what they are doing and perhaps indicates that most of the day is filled with nonsense and nothing matters more or less.

  38. People take infrastructure for granted. It really is a big deal to have sewage pipelines, water, power grid, food that can be stored, roadways that don’t change in spec from one property owner to the next.

    Most believe things could be a lot better, but to not give any credit to the present system is wrong in my opinion.

  39. That’s true, it’s more than conversation skills.

    I don’t judge my importance (professionally or personally) off how much communication I’m involved in. In fact, in the two fields of work I generally deal with (IT and digital art), the less I hear from people the better for my productivity. I primarily communicate via IM, e-mail, and SMS, all of which allow for asymmetric conversations. Basically I can get back to you whenever I get a chance. I make very few phone calls and use communication methods that allow me to communicate at my convenience.

    Mostly I just use the phone as a PDA that can make calls. Features like the GPS, camera, calendar reminders, bar code scanning, looking up information, and note taking are most of what I use. Enhancements to my life that help make my day go smoother, but don’t beg for my attention constantly.

  40. Under the circumstances you describe, you seem to be a smart person who paradoxically would not need smart phones because your day would go smoother anyway. The smart phone should be a help (enhancement) not a replacement of your smartness.

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