This Week's Herman Trend Alert

Leadership in Normal 2.0

  The Herman Trend Alert

March 15, 2006

Ubiquitous Cell Phones Blocking Relationships

The rapidly growing use of cell phones throughout the world will lead to significant changes in the way people relate to each other. While we are so well connected as individuals, that connection is relatively impersonal. We are laser-focused on our conversation with one person to the point that we do not interact with other humans who may be standing right next to us. The world is rapidly becoming a collection of people in isolation bubbles who have no connection to each other.

Wherever we go we see people talking on cell phones. They talk while driving, while shopping, while engaged in recreational activities. Last night we saw a family at a restaurant. Five people were sitting around the table, while three of them were talking on cell phones. Etiquette and manners are ignored when the cell phone rings. Japan has the right idea: cell phones are banned from restaurants there. Conversations with people who are not present supersede speaking with people---family and friends or business associates---who are right next to us.

If cell phones have already made us less connected to people close to us, what might we expect in the future? We already have challenges with e-mail, instant messaging, Skype, Blackberrys, and our cell phones. This technology allows us to be linked with the world…at the same time we are becoming less connected. Look at your own behavior. Have you ever talked with someone on the cell phone within hearing distance?

Interpersonal relationships are at risk. Our on-the-street surveys over the past few days suggest that an amazing proportion of people actually prefer a phone conversation to the opportunity to talk face-to-face with an individual. What does this observation say about people wanting to talk one-to-one with their neighbors? Do you ignore your ringing cell phone or your colleagues?

We hear stories about workers located close enough to talk with each other---or at least close enough to walk a few feet and see each other---communicating by cell phone and instant messaging systems. Technology is disrupting face-to-face communication, making the workplace---and our lives---impersonal.

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