Phone in the Toilet?

My friend Sara sent me an email: “Linda, Sorry that I’m not able to call you back. My phone fell into the toilet.”

We live in a world where phones can fall into toilets because our phones are following us everywhere. Untethered. Free. Free to fall into the toilet.

Last week, a high school sophomore told me that she brings her phone into the shower with her–in a Ziploc bag. She didn’t want to miss an incoming text message. When I asked her if, in her sleep, she had missed life-altering messages, she looked at me blankly.

We are better at rationalizing what we do than being rational about what we’re doing.
Untethered technology gives us the freedom to do nearly anything, anytime, anywhere. It can also enslave us when we feel compelled to use it wherever it is. Technology is neutral. How, when and where we use it is up to us.

When I recently visited an old high school friend in Ipswitch, Mass., I witnessed something unusual for most families today. Everything had a place. Cell phones were used at people’s desks. Computers were used at desks. The kitchen was a place for meals and family fellowship. Family members were fully present for conversations–enjoying eye contact, listening and a meaningful exchange.

I mentioned this to a friend living in the Silicon Valley area, a former high-tech executive. She approved. “I moved the computer out of my kitchen. Now it’s in the office. The office is an office, and the kitchen is a kitchen. I love it.”

“Freedom” [free-d uhm] is the absence of or release from ties, obligations, etc. The promise of a phone that could go anywhere was and is the promise of freedom–freedom from being tethered to a place.

“Enslave” means to bring into servitude. Our phones have enslaved us even as they set us free.

How is this also true? Because we can, we do! Because we can, the phone accompanies us to the toilet, to the shower and to bed. Because it rings, we feel compelled to see who is calling and, often, to pick up. Because we can be accessible, we feel we must be accessible.

Is “freedom” just another word for nothing left to lose? Let the phone keep ringing the next time someone calls and you’re in the midst of something else. When the caller later asks you why you didn’t answer or where you were, you can smile and say: “I’m free. Free. I’m free to enjoy being in the moment.”

And that’s when you will become more powerful than any gadget on the planet.

This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.

tags: , , ,
  • http://vjarmy.com/ Dan Dickinson

    Most people merely answer that they were busy when asked why they didn’t answer.

    And that when you will come off far better than some ridiculous nonsense about being “free”.

  • Daniel

    Has the radar mission changed? This is the third Linda Stone post and all three are reprints of posts that first appeared elsewhere (Forbes.com and the Huffington Post).

    Daniel

  • http://www.lindastone.net Linda

    Dan – I wrote this post after spending a lot of time with high school students listening to them talk about their technology habits. At the extreme end — 5000 text messages per month and cell phones in ziploc bags in the shower. Many of these kids (and adults I’ve interviewed as well) report that they both feel compelled to answer the phone because they can and that when they don’t answer, they need to explain what they were doing. The latter came across most strongly with the high school students. Whatever one might choose to say (free? something less “ridiculous?”), the point is, there is a choice to answer or not, to explain or not. We can choose to enjoy the freedom of being untethered OR feel the enslavement of obligation just because we’re accessible. We have a choice. Sounds like you are ahead of the pack on that and it’s not an issue in your life.

    Daniel — As far as I know, the Radar mission has not changed. In the same way pieces often appear in print in multiple places and online in multiple places, I was asked to post on Radar. I’m delighted, frankly. I love this community. The comments here on Radar and the emails I get from Radar readers are insightful and the anecdotes are fascinating. If it’s not working for you, skip it. If it’s working for you, enjoy it!
    Cheers, Linda

  • http://gumption.typepad.com Joe McCarthy

    One of the growing trends I’ve seen – or, perhaps, overheard – is people talking on their phones in public restrooms. I don’t know what it’s like in women’s rooms, but in men’s rooms, it is increasingly common for men to initiate, answer or continue mobile phone calls while standing at a urinal or sitting on a toilet … when they are “in the midst of something else”. Somehow, I find these intrusions of private conversations into the public arena even more jarring than in other public places … perhaps because there are fewer distractions in public restrooms to [pretend to] attend to instead of [appearing to] listening to a personal conversation … and I wonder how many phones are being used to provide reading material (SMS or web browsing) in such contexts.

    Anyhow, I’m not surprised that some phones are falling into toilets. I do wonder about the hygienic implications (How well can people wash their hands while on the phone? If you borrow someone’s mobile phone, where has that phone been?).

  • Bobby Mcgee

    The problem as I see it is that people are becoming less connected as they become more connected. We don’t talk to people we are with, but we share every little detail with the person on the other end of the phone. Also I’ve noticed people can’t think for themselves anymore, asking the voice on the other end of the phone for their opinion on everything, afraid to make a choice. It’s a bit scary when you think about it. I’d write more on this but I have a call to take.

    -dan

  • http://www.lindastone.net Linda

    Joe — Women are frequently on their cell phones while in the restroom. You may be making a good case for Purell!

    Bobby – Technology brings us closer to people who are far away and distances us from those who are physically close. I’m not sure how universal the business of always asking other’s opinions on the phone is — I’ll pay closer attention. What is certainly true is that the busy-ness and overwhelm we often feel these days is due to our being awash in opportunities and choosing EVERYTHING, when we might thrive more by choosing a few things that matter most.

    Cheers,
    Linda

  • Charlene

    I can remember in the late ’80s when portable phones where just becoming popular. I worked a place that rented out office space. The receptionist and I had a good laugh at a guy talking on the phone as he went into the restroom.

    I still think its a bad idea for talking on the cell phone while in the restroom (at least a public one – think of the sanitary issues). And I sure hope that the phone is filtering out everything else going on in the restroom while using it!

  • http://blogs.sun.com/jimgris Jim Grisanzio

    Very interesting. I’m an American living in Japan, so much of the distracting noise in this society is hidden behind a language barrier — which provides a remarkable focusing factor, I must say. However, even though the Japanese are are pretty chatty and are quite literally glued to their cell phones, they are remarkably polite about how the phones are used in public. I simply *never* hear phones ring in public, and I rarely hear people talking on them in public as well. Here’s an extreme example http://blogs.sun.com/jimgris/entry/stuck_on_a_train and I wonder what a similar situation would look like in NY or SF or Boston.