Modern communication has come more and more to dictate continual availability. People carry their phones (and personal conversations) into some of the most improbable (and impolite) settings. On airplanes, in church and at the adjacent urinal, we have been unwilling witness to folks whose need for constant contact exceeds understanding. Unless they have the codes to our country’s nuclear arsenal and the North Koreans are attacking, what justifies the non-stop confab?
When I first owned a cell-phone that wasn’t hard-wired to the floor of my car, I made the mistake of carrying the new gadget into a meeting with some much older colleagues. Certain that they’d be dazzled by my technological knowledge and surely justifiable superiority, I was disappointed by their disapproval. Rightly, they argued that attention to the person at hand is almost always more important than attending to a contact from another. Sure, we keep the phone handy when our kids are out of the house and plan for those important and expected return calls. But, the world has yet to cease revolving because a message was answered an hour after it was received. A client, obsessive potential mate, or telemarketer who cannot wait until we finish our meeting is probably not worth the concern.
Admittedly, I routinely lack the self-control to achieve my own goal as outlined above. The ringing phone, it seems like the crying baby, demands to be attended. For me, deactivating the ringer and hiding the device from view helps with lacking willpower. Interestingly even as I work to show respect for the one I’m with, the person calling often seems offended by the lack of immediate gratification. To whom do we owe our attention? And, do we have a right to demand that others be universally on call for us?