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PUBLISHED ARTICLE: Are Smartphones Becoming Our Bosses?
8-Feb-12 [ by Larry Chao ] 38005 Read and 0 Comment

No doubt smart phones have enriched people's lives.  We can access emails‚ social websites and practical information virtually anywhere‚ anytime.  But Larry Chao wonders:  "are we at a point of diminishing returns‚ where the time we spend in cyberspace is eating away at our lives?"


The other day I was waiting to be seated at a restaurant.  In front of me I observed three people having lunch.  Not once did they speak with each other.  The whole time they were glued to their smartphones‚ oblivious of what was going on around them.  


Lunch with colleagues used to be a time for intimacy and enjoying each other's company.  Now we seem to spend more time with our smartphones than each other. 


What started out as a tool to help us organize our lives and stay connected has become an obsession.  Smartphones are wonderful devices that allow us to multi-task and to be more productive.


The problem is that now they are stealing time from reality.  Yes‚ we are staying in touch with more people more frequently in cyberspace and we seem to be doing more‚ but at what price?  Every minute we spend on our smartphones is a minute we spend away from the present.  


Now if we are idle or have nothing to do‚ then living in cyberspace is a way to supplement our time.  It certainly beats watching TV‚ as many advertisers have discovered through the migration of their audiences away from television onto the Internet.  


Smartphones improve our effectiveness‚ but only when used properly.


Take‚ for example‚ a friend of mine who is an entrepreneur.  When he was in college he was an average student‚ who graduated and started working as a salesman for an average salary.  Then several years ago‚ his company downsized and he was left without a job.


Rather than to go back into the corporate world‚ he decided to start a medical equipment distributorship with his friend.  Today‚ he is a self-made millionaire several times over - brilliantly successful and still growing.


When I asked him how he used his smartphone to support his business‚ he told me he used it as a telephone and to occasionally send and receive emails.


How about using it to access social media like Facebook?  Can't you develop new customers and handle inquiries more conveniently‚ I asked.


"People who are really serious about doing business with us do not use Facebook‚" he replied.  "They go through referrals.  So I spend most of my time servicing my existing customers to make sure they receive the best possible experience.  Satisfied customers mean more referrals."


Staying in touch with the market is important he added‚ but not at the expense of managing what was in front of him every day.  He used his smartphone to supplement his work‚ not to supplant it.


"I prefer to deal with real life experiences that make a difference to my business‚" he said.  "If I have a problem with a customer‚ then I just call him.  Why send an email?"


What is true for entrepreneurs is also true in the corporate world.  Many employees need to learn how to use smartphones judiciously to prevent them from taking over their lives.


Trouble is technology‚ particularly email‚ organizes one's work into huge "to do" lists‚ which we try to complete as they accumulate.  Work becomes a stream of never-ending tasks.  We become busier on line‚ but not necessarily more productive.  


Smartphones enable this stream of work to encroach into our personal lives.  Every time our smartphone beeps to let us know we received a message or an update‚ we feel compelled to open it up and deal with it.  And the more we respond the more we receive back.  The stream of "to dos‚" takes on a life of its own.


The time we spend in reality shrinks.  Pretty soon our smartphones become tethers.  Rather than making us more productive‚ they enslave us in an endless loop of rote activity.


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