Sunday, May 2, 2010

Mobile Devices and Presence

It pains me to write this post because (1) I find it incredibly sad that it needs to be said at all, and (2) I don't want this blog to be "lecture posts" but this is worth writing about.  I am amazed at the number of young folks in religious leadership who are entering the scene without basic mobile device ettiquette.  Since I am a fairly young person myself, this reflects badly on my own cohort. 

In short, mobile devices -- no matter how wonderful they are in so many ways -- communicate partial presence.  In most cases that is because they DO detract from presence, even though we are so accustomed to them that we can't fully recognize their detraction. 

Religious leaders: model presence!  Be radical.  Whenever you are spending time with others, seriously consider turning off those devices.

If you must have a cell phone on, put it on vibrate and keep it close to your body (not in your purse) to reduce the sound when it rings.  Do not answer when it rings until you have fully excused yourself from the room and the door is shut behind you.  Then look at the number on the phone and think, "Do I need to be available right now?  Can I check my messages later?"  A helpful policy is to leave a message on your voicemail letting folks know you do not answer the phone, but will call them right back for immediate needs if you are available.  Then you don't have to answer at all.

And please, please, whatever you do, do not text in meetings, even if you think nobody is noticing (fat chance).  It may be countercultural to say so, but it is, in a word: rude.


  1. We are not to have them on either place (neither is a church) where I work. Period. I don't even bring with me to one job. The other I usually do only to turn on and let Colin know when I am leaving for home...

  2. Here is a conundrum though - I got an ipod touch, and I was all gung-ho to go paperless and start taking my little notes and to do lists on it instead of paper. But when I am tap tapping on the screen in a meeting, I get frowns from the older generation. Sigh, I had to go back to using paper and then taking the extra step of typing it in later ...
    And I agree about the phone, but when I am meeting with parents I understand that they would want to be reachable.

    Not to disagree, but perhaps to be a bit contrary. :)

  3. When folks feel it is critical that they be reachable, I suggest keeping the phone on the vibrate setting and against the body. For women, a bra is actually a good place to keep it (underarm area has great sound-muffling potential, but if you are well enough endowed, between the sisters could be another option). The reason I recommend the bra is:

    1. These are good places for sound muffling.
    2. You won't be inclined to take the phone out until you are truly out of the room and somewhere private.

    Other options include using a clip and keeping it clipped to your pants, but on the inside of your pants, against your body, or worse case scenario, in a pocket (muffles sound some, but depending on the pants, not as much as against your body).

    Note that a purse does not muffle sound well, and on vibrate setting will give the phone plenty of things to vibrate against, potentially increasing noise. Also, it takes time to find the phone in your purse, and you may be so mortified by the noise that you go hunting rather than making a quick exit. Wearing a phone clipped on the outside of your pants is probably the second worst option.

    It *is* still really distracting to have someone leave the room to get a phone call if you can hear it loudly vibrating or if the person answers it before they leave the room, before the door is shut behind them, and depending on how thick the door is, before they are in a private area.

    Ideally, no one will hear the vibration at all, and no one will ever know that you left the room for a phone call unless there is an emergency and you need to go back in the room to excuse yourself from the meeting entirely.

    Again, I'd say, don't plan to answer the phone before it stops ringing. Leave a message on your voicemail that you will call folks right back in cases of immediate need.

    When you are out of the room and in a private area, remove the phone and check who called. Do not call back just because you are out of the room and might as well. If it is not important, I suggest returning to your meeting.

    If it is important, you can call right back. Not answering the phone delays you by no more than a minute, and if you communicate with the important people in your life that you don't make it a habit to answer the phone but will call them back if needed, it shouldn't be a problem except in perhaps *extremely* rare conditions.

    By the way, for those in vocational ministry positions, during one-on-one meetings, particularly of a pastoral nature, moms or not, we need to keep our phones off. Our spouses, if we have them and if it is possible, or another person designated for this purpose should be prepared to be the ones to field the calls when we are unavailable (remember before cell phones how we used to call our grandmothers or aunts or mom’s best friends when our mothers weren’t home and we needed something? It is good and healthy and really something positive for kids to know there are others in the world besides us who they can rely on). Our kids and their caregivers should know that we will have periods during which we are totally unavailable but that we will turn our phone on as soon as possible.

    By the way, I love that you commented and I appreciate "contrarian" comments. It adds to the richness of the blog, which is what I am going for. As for the ipod touch issue, I am going to make a separate post for that. It’s a good topic.