Confessions of a smartphone douchebag

I have developed a twitch.

I can’t go more than 15 minutes without reaching into my pocket, pulling out my smartphone and checking in with the torrent of communications coming at me through email, the social web and my blog.

It’s at the point where this has become an involuntary reflex like a breath or a heart beat.  It happens on a regular pace, without planning or thought.  It is outside of my awareness, like a blink.

And it’s become a problem.  This week I was at dinner with friends and realized I had tuned out the conversation and was immersed in my phone.  I felt embarrassed because I knew how rude this must have seemed but I didn’t even remember pulling the device out.  And while I can occasionally fake through an episode of “Geez, these clients are demanding,” in truth, I could just as likely have been checking into Foursquare.

I have become a smartphone douchbag.

How did this happen?

I know I’m not alone in this experience, but as I reflect, I think there are two forces that have conditioned this new behavior.

I’ve always been a hard-worker, but even a few years ago, I could still dis-engage unless I had a laptop and an Ethernet connection. Now, work follows me like air.

Second, the torrent of communications can be overwhelming. 150 emails a day. 300 Twitter mentions. Dozens of LinkedIn, Facebook and YouTube requests.  All good stuff, but if I let my guard down for even half a day, I am in a deep hole, so I just keep on shoveling, shoveling, shoveling a little bit at a time.

I’m not meaning for this to be a personal whiny-boy session because I know I make my own choices in life but I also sense this is happening to a lot of other people.  It’s even creeping into academic research and some are worried that the ubiquitous electronic connections we maintain may be weakening family ties.

Social psychologist Robert Kraut of Carnegie Mellon University is among those studying our relationship with technology. “At any moment, you’re dividing your attention between the person in front of you and the person you’re giving snippets of information to. We don’t know the net consequence of reducing the quality of the relationship a little bit with the person you’re with while improving or maintaining it with the person you’re electronically tied to.”

The fact is, when I twitch and pull out my iPhone at a family dinner, I am sending a message: “Excuse me, but there is someone I’d rather be interacting with than you.” Awful.

The problem becomes magnified because I’m not the only one at the table with the twitch.  My kids can be even worse.  And while I may KNOW I’m jeopardizing human relationships, I’m not sure they do. The world of disconnected, heads-down, “thumb communication” is the preferred method of maintaining relationships for many teens. There is a wide generational communication gap emerging, but that is another blog post entirely!

I am in a period of transition. I need to place limits on this thing … in effect, I need to parent myself.  I am looking for ways to address the root causes — an inability to dis-engage without making the problems worse, and the pressure of constant communications.

But in the mean time, I would be so interested in your experiences with this dilemma. What are you experiencing and what is your strategy to deal with it? Are you a smartphone douchebag?

All posts

  • I had to do a literal 2.5 week tech fast back in December during my Christmas vacation to go cold turkey and get rid of my twitch. After coming back, I have found that the internet doesn’t revolve around me, and I stil get all the communication I need, and the information I want by using Twitter lists, email filters, and RSS feeds.

    It’s been about two months now since I’ve been back from a full on fast, and it’s been nice not to feel like I have to pull out my phone every 15 minutes. I don’t feel the drug addicted twitch anymore!

  • Guilty. Sort of.

    Yesterday I was at a yogurt shop and I watched the young lady behind the counter on her iPhone WHILE SHE WAS HELPING A CUSTOMER. (Throw up in mouth a little…). At that moment I realized that I was doing it as well. I was focusing more on my phone than my company.

    I did two things that helped me curb it. 1. I removed any apps that don’t absolutely require me to have the phone in my hand. (For example, I have a Facebook page, but I don’t have FB on my phone any longer.) 2. I turned off all notifications – the blinking lights, the vibrating motion (insert joke here).

    Those two things actually made me realize how little I need my phone for anything other than phone calls. It made me wonder how immediate social media needs to be. Do I really need to respond to emails and tweets that fast? Can’t I do it later?

    Results may vary.

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  • Impressive. I’ve got to find some solutions. Thanks, Erik!

  • Yeah, I already did away with the notification thing or it would be constantly making noise. I do use it actively thought to fill the gaps while waiting in line, etc. to get legitimate work done so I can’t dismiss it as a productivity tool. Just need to reign it in! Thanks, Paul.

  • You know that peaceful glow that emanates from your iphone as you lie in bed doing a final check communications check before you go to sleep? Well it turns out that my wife hates that to the point of kicking me out to the couch for the night. The activity is now banned. Is she being unreasonable? I thought so, but for the sake of our marriage I must comply.

  • Anonymous

    Wow, this strikes close to home. I know I have an addiction to my phone and the social media, the emails, the texts that go along with it. I’m still a “crackberry” user, but the symptoms and problem are still all too real. It does interfere with my real world relationships, especially if the people in my real world (family) aren’t as tethered to this ‘social’ world as I am. My alerts are the worst. I’m like a Pavlovian dog with the ding. Turn the notification off and I look for the blinking light. It’s sick, really. Yes, it’s part of my business, embodies my work ethic (ON all the time), and keeps me up to date, but at what cost to my family and real relationships?

    Here’s what I’ve done lately: during any lunch meeting (whether its clients or family), I put the phone away – off the table and I don’t pick it up until the meeting is over. Knowing my husband also has a phone and can be reached should there be a child emergency, I feel safe in doing that. Of course, I’ve been none to pick it up if those I’m lunching with head off to the bathroom, but like you, I’m being productive in ‘down time’. 🙂

    Also, when I’m at home and it’s dinner time with the family, the phone is in another room and I do NOT allow it at the table. Really, the most important people in my life are at the table with me. Everyone else can wait a half hour or so until we’ve finished our meal. I usually don’t pick it back up until after the kids go to bed. I then check messages, tweets, etc for the night, address the hot items and turn it off for the night. It lives outside my bedroom (my spouse really does not want it in there!) and I don’t turn it on before 7:00am.

    Does this always go as I’ve outlined it? No. But it’s the method and manner of use to which I aspire. Better to have something to shoot for than just keep bumbling along…

    Sorry for the LONG comment! Like I said, it hits really close to home! I wish you luck…you’ve got way more the social burden going on that I could dream of, but I understand it nonetheless.

  • Man I’m a bitch’s smartphone douchbag. Minimum of every fifteen minutes. Constantly connected.

    What’s funny is, if I go hiking for a few days and leave all my gadgets behind, I don’t miss them that much. I feel great. It’s weird. As soon as I get back, I’m back to my old habits.

    I think this is a problem LOTS of us are facing, and we’re too ashamed to admit it. It took guts writing this, Mark! And no, I don’t have a good answer. 🙁 Let’s face it: Apple makes it downright fun toying huge blocks of time away – chasing Twitter links and cool photo apps. Hmm.

  • Greg Fox

    Thx for bringing this topic to the table. Guilty as charged. I am aware that for many of us a pendulum swing is grabbing us and that very quickly we are heading back to the center. Like any new tool, it gets overused by many until its best uses are shaken out. I, personally, have noticed that I no longer whip it out during a lunch meeting just to check Twitter. My current threshold is to quickly pull it out on first mention of the weather. and I do so like a quick-draw six-shooter on an old time Western. I think I am at step 3 of a 12-step program!

  • Oh man, you have me laughing. I must admit that i use my smartphone to FIND the bed if my wife has already turned out the lights! : ) Nice to hear from you Sheldon – it’s been too long!

  • Thanks very much Erica. Solid advice that I’m sure will resonate with a lot of readers!

  • Hiking has actually become a mandatory activity for me. I call it digital de-tox. I live near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and there is no reception. Heaven. Thanks Martyn.

  • When you discover the other nine steps, let me know Greg!

  • Wow, great minds think alike. :d No seriously, I think everyone needs some sort of getting-away-from-the-Internet time. It’s really refreshing.

    But again, I only “miss” the Internet when a device is at my fingertips. When it’s inaccessible, I feel great without it. Do you experience that?

  • You’re funny! We’re all guilty of this. All of us. I have a rule. No phone at dinner or with friends. I really hate it when people come over to watch football because that means no phone then, either. And I really, really love to text and tweet during football games. But I made that rule a couple of years ago and I stick to it (though I will sneak my phone to the bathroom a couple of times a night).

    I also have a no phone during meetings rule at work. Nothing pisses me off more than trying to get work done or being in a staff meeting and having someone checking their phone. Like you said, it sends a message and it makes me want to say, “If there is somewhere else you’d rather be, there’s the door.”

    Because of this rule, though, you get extra angry when other people don’t abide by it, as if they’re supposed to know you have this personal rule. So you also have to parent yourself in your reaction.

  • There are so many directions that I wish to go with my comment, but what has really captivated my attention lately is the perception that “since you ‘can’ maintain constant contact (via SMS, Twitter, email, etc) with someone, you ‘must’ do so, otherwise you’ll demonstrate that you don’t value said relationship.”

    Although I go for spurts on Twitter and my Blog where I’m consumed by them, constantly updating and engaging, I will also ‘disappear’ for a few days. It’s just who I am. I enjoy the outdoors, so I’ll spend a weekend in the woods and will be ‘unavailable’. What is irritating to me, and it is a product of our need for immediate communication, immediate gratification, is when I go for a week or longer without texting or emailing, the person on the other end feels I’m being a poor friend (disclaimer – I never leave business communication hanging that long). It’s not that I value the friendship any less, I just don’t feel that being in constant contact is a requisite action for ‘maintaining a friendship’. Remember when you had to ‘mail’ letters or dial stupid 10-10-xxx codes to dial long distance 1-2 times a month to stay in touch? Ahh.. simpler times.

    But it isn’t necessarily this person’s fault for thinking that way. It’s a societal issue. We all feel the same pressure to always be available, and we forget to have time for ourselves (or in your case, Mark, time for our personal relationships). I was given a great piece of advice by a friend sometime ago, and at the time I was complaining to her about having so many places I ‘should’ be — opportunities were everywhere– but I couldn’t obviously be everywhere at once. She told me, the great thing about opportunity is that when you ‘don’t take advantage of 1 opportunity, you allow another to come into existence’.

    The same can be said about Twitter, SMS, etc. Sure, by keeping your phone stowed in your pocket, you may miss a great Twitter conversation, but there will be others, so we don’t need to stress out about it so much.

  • My sign that it was an issue around the house- my eldest BRINGING me my phone when it went off and I deliberately LEFT it to detach.
    The kid angle is definitely correct, but I doubt there is too much to do about it. We might stop it for our family, but I get the sense that this is a rising tide that we can’t do too much about. Rules or not.

  • Com e on down to Tennessee some time and w’ll do some de-tox together : )

  • So very wise Gini. Yes I text in the toilet too. Is there a name for that?

  • So many ideas yet none of them appropriate.

  • Anonymous

    Guilty! I solved this problem by getting another mobile that has no smartphone capabilities whatsoever. Whenever I’m out for social or outdoor activities, I switch to this phone instead of bringing my iPhone. This way, I still have some basic means of communication but not having to worry about getting emails or notifications, reading RSS feeds or having the urge to play Angry Birds.

  • Part of the balancing act, as you say, is the new personal negotiation also must take into account at some level that this is our job. Blogging, Twitter, whatever .. adds a new level of complexity to our lives. Thanks Jamey and see you soon at Social Slam!

  • What’s really bad is when you get caught in the bathroom with a friend trying to Facetime you. I had that happen to me the other day. I just stayed on Twitter hahaha.

  • Whole new world isn’t it? Thanks Todd.

  • LMAO! That is awesome!

  • Oh, yes – I had a few embarassing episodes, too. In my case, there is also the fact that I do not have a wrist watch. So, I instinctively check my phone on a regular basis – just like I used to look at my wrist regularly to see how I was doing for time. If I really, really want to be ‘safe’ I put the phone out of reach.

    But I think that there is another factor for our behaviour: the senders’ expectations (or, rather, our perception of those expectations). Specifically, this idea that if I send you an e-mail, tweet, SMS, etc… you should react to it very, very soon. So, there is a pressure on the receiver of the message to show that, indeed, ‘I am on the case’.

    In a recent blog post, I discussed the ‘etiquette’ of technology mediated vs face to face communications – how it seems to be so widely accepted that face to face conversation will be interrupted / put on hold to deal with an incoming phone call, SMS or e-mail. It feels very wrong to me, but I suspect that, increasingly, this is the social norm.

    Hopefully, the ‘frenzy’ will calm down as we learn to control technology and the influx of information, rather than being controlled by it.

  • I would have just tried to stall. : )

  • I can totally relate to this. This morning my network was down on my phone. I couldn’t check email, Twitter or my Facebook notifications. I almost went nuts. Then I realized how pathetic that was that my network being down was dampering my morning.

    Being in a long distance relationship, I only see my fiancee one weekend a month at best. My rule there (after a harsh learning curve) is to turn off all push notifications and automatic updates to my phone while I’m with her those few days. Best decision I’ve made.

    Definitely a convicting post a lot of us can relate to!

  • I was just thinking about this morning. Well not about you, but I had my Blackberry in my hand again somehow, just moments after I said to myself, “I’m going to unplug for awhile.”

    I think a lot of it is just the sheer volume of everything coming at us, like you say. I am a type A personality, so if someone asks me to look at something, I want to do it right away so I don’t forget. If I get an email, I want to try to make sure I respond. I do not have nearly the volume of input coming at me that you do, but it’s enough to give me the twitch.

    I will say this, however. If I am going out to dinner, I simply leave my Blackberry at home, or I turn it off. If you have it on, or on your person, you will look at it. To avoid the twitch, just completely depart from it. We all need to make sure that we preserve our real relationships with the people we love and care about. And hey – tell the kids to leave their phones at home too 🙂

    Just hope you don’t have a long wait before you get seated 😉

  • Nice. Actually that is a good idea!

  • I hope os. I try to “group” my communications too so I can work more efficently. You should leave the link to your blog post!

  • Such a romanitc! Thanks Drew!

  • Ha! Well said Marjorie. Love your comments. Always so well written! Thanks!

  • As is always the case, knowing is half the battle. I suppose it’s fair to say that I am still addicted to my smartphone, but I think I’ve made great strides. One tactic I’ve used before is, when I’m going to a party or some similar social event, I may leave my phone in the glovebox. Very few things are so important that I can’t leave my phone in the car for a couple of hours.

  • I do that too! And we usually sing a chorus of “This Little Light of Mine” in the morning as we trudge to the bathroom. : )

  • Guilty as charged and yes I have seen it putting strain on personal relationships. I am now trying to work to a time-table – the data on my iphone is turned off at 9pm every (ok most) nights and I try not to tweet etc on a Sunday. It’s hard because I really enjoy digesting all of the info and comms that come my way, but balance is key. On a recent holiday I was without data for a week, halfway through that week I started to feel so out of touch. Crazy!

  • I am so painfully guilty of this. I even go to bed with my phone on. If i wake up in the middle of the night, I check emails. Since Twitter is part of my job, I do consider that work, but my idea that I have to address every single thing right away has to change.

    I am going to take some of these suggestions. Many of them make a lot of sense to me. I have to figure out how to turn off the Twitter and Facebook notifications for my phone. That would help me out quite a bit.

    Another great post Mark. I look forward to reading your posts every morning now.

  • This is a problem during our networking meetings- everyone’s phone is on the table….

    I feel like I should put on my Girl Scout leaders (or teachers) hat and say, “Please turn off all phone’s and put them BACK in your briefcases, laptop bag, etc…..

    I have started turning my ringer off when driving so I’m not tempted to grab it when it rings. Not that I text & drive…..but I have been known to sneak a peak to see who’s calling….then pull over to talk.

    I am of the age that remembers before the days of cell phones and honestly, I cannot remember a single emergency that happened while I was driving or at a meeting…

    …and there isn’t really anything THAT important on the Internet that I won’t see it later…..

  • Yes, this is true, but I don’t even like the sound of it. : ) It seems I use my Smartphone for so many things — a movie time, a menu, finding the answer to a question. I hate not having it. A blessing and a curse! Thanks Jake !

  • Last fall I took a two-week vacation to Europe with limited access to the Smartphone (although I did go over my data plan). When I got back, I really HAD missed a lot. A major announcement by Facebook and Google and a tremendous amount of news. The social web runs in dog years. What used to be seven months of information happens in one.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment Mike!

  • You, know I really feel a lot of empathy toward you. I feel like i can really connect with that attachment and connectivity you are expressing that is so intoxicating. And I think you’re right that it just is not healthy. I am finding myself having trouble relaxing because I always have that twitch. That is just not good for my long-term health, let alone my relationships. Is it my job, or am I using it for an excuse? Hard to sort out.

    Thanks for the honesty Nancy. I really connected with you on this.

  • This is totally true, but I find it’s more that my smartphone and various mobile devices (e-reader, etc) have made me more sensitive to boredom. My inability to handle boredom or idle time is filled by that constant device-checking that you are describing, which then feeds and grows that inability to handle boredom even more. Vicious cycle, to say the least.

  • That is such a good point. I was in the professional workforce long before cellphones and laptops. It worked. These devices have not made our lives less stressful, it seems.

    Here is another question I should have raised in my post. Am I putting the pressure to “always be on” on me, or is there a real expectation for rapid response? I can tell you with some customers, there is absolutely an expectation for connectivity. And part of it is my brand, too. How can I be a legitimate digital marketer and resist being connected?

    It’s complicated.

    Well, one thing for sure. I do so appreciate you taking the time to add your comments Carolee. It really means a lot. Thank you.

  • NathanEgan

    Mark – your problem will not be overcome with a traditional discipline, like putting your phone “away” for a while. Your twitch is systemic in that you have “over-connected” yourself! The discipline you need to learn is to NOT connect to people you don’t know, NOT care or reply to @smartphonedouchebag mentions, NOT respond to every comment on your blog, etc etc. I know this will be hard for you and you will never agree (well maybe someday – haha) but you need to actually disconnect from these avatars (sorry, I mean people) that you think you know and feel obligated to {nurture}… you are trying to please too many people and your real world connections are suffering. Sounds like you are developing your own Brogan-syndrome. Has your current methodology helped you {grow} your business? Of course! But only temporarily as you exploit market knowledge gaps. In closing this is all just my humble opinion and it is backed by the fact that I really don’t have your problem – and my assessment is that it is because I am a closed networker. For anyone else on this string that has these problems and is not a BLOGGER, you probably just have time management issues.

  • I am guilty of the same sin, and it’s a really hard habit to break. I wish I could chime in with a “so here’s how to get over it,” but I don’t have that on this one. I will say that sometimes when my battery dies or I forget my phone at home, I am quite at peace (after I get over the initial panic attack). Knowing I can’t possibly check – or that those emails will just have to stack up – at least lets me enjoy the moment I’m in. I’ll read the rest of the comments to see if anyone has any tips for undouchebagging ourselves.

  • I can see this thread getting clogged with bathroom puns.

  • Oh definitely guilty as charged. I was at a showing of King Lear staring Derek Jacobi, my favourite actor the other night, and found myself checking twitter. I had to kick myself. It’s like I’m connected to the matrix.

    At the moment I’m just embracing the smart phone douchebag in me although I don’t check messages during meetings or dinner.

    Maybe we need a “parental lock” for the phone so we can’t access it through dinner at all. Even if we try.

  • Do you have any household rules? I’m fairly sure I am going to implement some for ours

  • This is SO true. I have a hard time not checking my phone on a regular basis. I try to be aware of what I am doing when I’m out with other people. I have had family members comment on the fact that I am being rude in the past, so I am much more sensitive to it. Now, I notice all of the time when others are doing it to me. I try not to take it personally. I do think it is a problem but not one with an easy solution.

    Great post!! Really enjoyed your perspective and all of those in the comments.

  • “Hi Mark (and everyone)…My name is Erika and I’m addicted to my iPhone.” My addiction is actually a serious point of contention in my house – and I’ve had to make a conscious decision to turn it off – while I’m spending time with my family and friends. I’m not cured yet – and I do have slip ups – but I’m trying very, very hard – and jump back on the wagon each time I fall off.

    Thanks for keeping it front of mind for me – my husband will appreciate it!

  • Okay Mark,

    So I’m a little guilty of these things but actually not so much. I guess it might be cause I still use Blackberry instead of iPhone – which means – less stuff to get addicted to.

    Contrary to popular belief, I can’t sit on the phone for hours on end – not even 30 minutes. My ear starts to burn up.

    If I’m in a meeting – either I don’t pick up or I pick up to say I’ll call them back – or else it’s on silent – cause let’s face it – most people have their phones out on the table and if one rings or beeps every minute – it’s a cause to jump out a window.

    I get annoyed if someone in front of me is BBMing or texting during our conversation – if I have to do it – I make it very quick and I’ll probably slip in a “sorry about that” before I do so.

    I always say “don’t to unto others what you don’t want them to do to you” – the golden rule plus common sense. I really try to apply that in everyday life – and since my phone and I come as a pair – it goes for that too.

    I’ll admit to never turning my phone off though – even when I sleep. I always think, “what if”, so I leave it on but if I’m extra irritable that day – I’ll just put it on silent or vibrate. I love my sleep – as it is I don’t get enough of it.

    I don’t watch football so I don’t have Gini’s problem lol – but I will frown at you if you’re talking and texting the whole time while we’re watching a movie.

    I also don’t use Twitter or FB from my phone – well Facebook never actually – Twitter I’ll log on and check if I’m sitting somewhere and bored. On that note – I love Twitter :).

    I check emails and all from it – but I don’t open attachments or videos – the screen is too small – the connection too slow and I can’t be bothered – unless it’s urgent it will have to wait till I’m in front of my computer again (which usually isn’t that long).

    Okay, so that’s how I feel. I’m sure there’s quite a few more examples I could include but…
    Bottom line is:

    My phone is always with me – but I’m not always with it :).

    Great discussion topic Mark
    Have a nice day

  • That is a superb point Marcella. The boredom factor — constant stimulation — wish I would have mentioned this in the original article! Well said!

  • Morning Mark (and crew!) 🙂
    I’m on deadline and a bit behind the proverbial 8-ball, BUT I recently listened to this 13-min interview on NPR and found it very interesting. The main topic is multi-tasking, but that habit is closely tied to the whole smartphone douchebag phenomenon. The piece features New York Times technology writer, Matt Richtel, talking to Terry Gross about the scientific research that proves multi-tasking is not only detrimental to our productivity, it’s detrimental to our general well-being. The constant barrage of triggers (emails, texts, Facebook alerts … not to mention Real World stimuli) causes us to be in a constant state of alert and tension.
    I don’t know about you – but that doesn’t sound too healthy.

    Personally, if I’m home, my beloved iPhone gets left on my desk as I go about my business and spend time with my family. Luckily, the alerts on that thing are so faint, that I hardly ever hear them and am not tempted to “just check” the thing. I will admit, however, to a pretty strong twitch when I am out and have a moment of down time (like when my beau and I are out to eat and he goes to the men’s room … I can’t help hopping on Twitter and Facebook … just for a minute.)

  • Here is a fundamental question everyone needs to ask themselves: (and probably a blog post here!) Are you approaching the social web as an individual networker or as a brand? Obviously, you are approaching it as a networker and building your business that way. By luck, design, or a little of both, I have become a brand. Brands don’t always know the people who love them but they would be foolish to ignore them or cut them off. It’s a different business model.

    The benefits of being a brand with an inclusive mentality — I have written a book, The Tao of Twitter, which is now up on Amazon, but I have not officially announced it yet. Last week it leaked over the Internet that I had written this book and I sold 162 copies in a day after I had told just one person it was even available. I’m sure that i don’t know many of the people who bought the book — or who may eventually buy my services, invite me to speak, or become a valuable business partner one day.

    I’m a brand that people connect to and trust in some way and that is an amazing and humbling honor that I will not dismiss and never take for granted. The day i do, I will be doomed.

    It’s a two-edged sword. Yes it takes time. Is it worth it? Without question. I have built my entire business and developed my most important business relationships on this premise.

    Thanks for your important perspective on this, Nathan.

  • I like this idea of forging yourself for being disconnected when you really have no choice. How do we forgive ourselves more often? This is good stuff. Thanks!

  • Embracing your inner douchebag. Yes, a valid option! Thanks Jon!

  • I think it’s hard to not take it personally. When I am trying to multi-task with someone and they are multi-tasking I want to grab them and shake them. That is a prime motivator for me to get my act together in this regard. It’s a sign of respect. Thanks Traci!

  • I am so glad to know that you, too, are guilty of the bathroom sneak. It makes me feel like a dirty addict, but am totally guilty.

  • Oh Mark, I hear you!!! We have a 12 year old daughter “Addicted” to texting!!! We have a no phones at any meal rule. We even restrict her when we are at aunt’s & uncle’s for holidays too. We also have to tell her no texting while walking thru parking lots and in the street…common sense stuff, you know?

    However, it would help if hubby & I set a better example! I thankfully, can say I am better behaved than hubby, but agree, that we need to parent ourselves and set better examples. We are all so connected, and our clients are no different than us when they expect quick if not instant responses or resolutions.

    I think setting boundaries (reasonable ones, like dinner table or meals is a good starting point). Good luck beating the twitch!

  • Its no wonder there have been reports about the germs our smart phones carry!! 😉 We are all guilty of this!!

  • John Barnett

    Greetings Mark et al,

    I share the affliction you all describe and committed most if not all the transgressions listed here. Fortunately for me, the wife and daughter held an intervention and have forced a draconian usage schedule. Transgressions are met with some form of head slap. So slowly and surely I’m getting better at managing the phone use and my time. 😉

  • Mark, thank you again for another amazing post that makes me pause for self-reflection.

    I am a recovering smartphone douchebag.

    And, like all recovering addicts (and truly, I don’t mean to make light of those who suffer addiction) this is a process through which there are good days and bad.

    I think we justify checking in with our networks during dinners and other personal times as something we’re doing to nurture those relationships, without realizing the damage it could be doing for the one in real life, sitting before us. It’s especially difficult when those close to us are not active in the social space — seriously, have you ever really tried to explain what it is that we’re doing here on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare, etc., and why it’s so important to keep “ties” with “strangers” outside of business hours? It’s hard to not sound like a lunatic.

    I am making a point, for the sake of my personal connections (primarily marriage and family) to put the phone away during “off hours.” It’s not easy. In fact, just last week I was on vacation outside the country and thought technological difficulties would aid in my recovery (at least for the week) but I realized how quickly I got sucked back in (OMG – there’s WiFi in this Cantina?!?!).

    I’m always one to defend our online relationships and the value they bring, both personally and professionally, but that line between online and off does need to become more clear as we realize the affect they have on each other. Reality is, there are only 24 hours in a day. How we spend them, and with whom, is up to us. Just because a smartphone allows us to carry thousands of “friends” in our pocket, doesn’t mean they should always be there.

  • I LOVE this! Smartphones Anonymous. Fantastic comment Erika. Thank you!

  • Anonymous

    Good stuff Mark and right on the mark (no pun intended). Social media is in my list of work responsibilities so I’m rarely without my smartphone. Just this weekend I was busy trying to post a picture on Facebook of my kids toting bowling balls only to be chastised by my husband to put my phone away because I was missing the live action. We do have to learn to strike a balance…

  • Anonymous

    Well, I remember when cell phones came out and how annoying that was being around people constantly on them. They are fairly ubiquitous now and the only real annoyance is hearing people on them in quiet places.

    Smart phones are pretty much going down the same route and, while I don’t have one myself, I understand that people “need” them. So you have my blessing to use it without sneaking off or feeling guilty.

    Sorry for last night too (even though I’m laughing)…

  • Rob

    I find it helpful to have a list of times I’m not allowed to whip out the smart phone. “While eating a meal” is a favorite (except when food blogging). Also, “in polite company” (except to resolve a debate). Hmm, yeah, no place is safe.

  • Goodness – the amount of work I’ve done in the bathroom, alone and away from the kids. It’s priceless.

  • Janet_granger

    Mark -I like most what you said about kids. My son is a smartphone douchebag. Ah, what to do with teenagers? I think it’s really important that we send them the message that “signals” are important. That showing someone “someone else is more important to me than you are” is dangerous. It’s ok if it’s your mother and you’re talking to your friend. It’s not ok if it’s your employer, or you’re driving, etc.
    The problem is – our kids don’t listen to us – they watch us. So we all have to be careful not only of what we say but what we DO. Being the change, as they say, is step 1.

  • Agree. We first dealt with this issue with Cell Phones. Now we have to make our rules and limits with Smart Phones. My children suffer the most but we do have rules like no checking at dinner and the like. Fortunately my kids are too little to have their own phones. I’m not looking forward to that.

  • Anonymous

    Funny, I usually tune out kids on phones since kids will be kids but teaching them the smart phone etiquette… I have to sympathize with you there.

  • Hey Mark,

    What a coincidence – I just came across (this minute) an article about this topic on the 99% blog. I thought you may enjoy it ;).

  • My children are grown so when we spend time with them, the idea of me making “rules” is pretty much off limits. In general, they are respectful. They know the limits! Luckily I have parented them well in enough ways that courtesy is spilling over to the digital age!

  • Yeah, I have been surprised by the amount of comments in the pipeline.

  • So funny! : )

  • I’ve exacerbated the situation since I’m trying to keep email app closed more to stop checking email every few seconds. Now I check phone every few seconds, but it’s less time consuming as I only read the messages for urgency and save the responding for later.

  • As the daughter of this smartphone douchebag, all I have to say is FINALLY. I have been trying to acknowledge this problem for the last 3 years. The first step is acceptance. Good job Dad.

    Secondly, as 1/4 of the “kids” he is acknowledging, I am going to respectfully disagree. Having a smartphone douchebag as a father, I have seen the extremely aggravating affects it has on other people so I try with all my might to not be wired in when I am with other people. So I guess, thank you for setting the example!

    In terms of other young adults my age, at least from my perspective, we are much better than other people think we are. When I am with my friends, we rarely are on our phones because the people we would normally be connected with are right in front of us so there is no need! Normally when out to dinner we all spend a quiet initial minute checking in, tweeting, tagging, etc. and then we put them away. With family, I might look just as bad, but really I am playing solitaire waiting for my dad to get off the damn thing.

    Young people really save the smart phone time for when they don’t have anything better to do- like during classes 🙂

  • It’s sad how we’re moving so scarily toward instant gratification, isn’t it? Scary, but still fun!

  • Well, I guess you can see the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. The next social media bouncer. Good job my dear.

  • Was about to mention a couple pieces in the NYT that talked about gadgets and productivity. I don’t have kids or a smartphone (yet.. soon) but know it’s the balance thing. The idea is to maximize your efficiencies when you’re stuck: standing in a line, waiting at the doctor’s office. But then be able to walk away, shut down when you need to concentrate on the task at hand.

  • Mark, I’ve liked many of the comments here, lots of good advice on deciding the rules. I was a smartphone holdout for this reason: did not want to turn into one of THOSE people, the douchebags who talk, text in movies, at dinner, ignoring the real life right in front of them. When I’m upgrade eligible I will get a smartphone and will stick to some rules about how and when to use it. It should be a help, not a hindrance; it should make me more productive and efficient. If it doesn’t help, if it actually starts to get in the way, that’s when it’s time to turn if off. FWIW.

  • So true, Marcella. I found it very educational when I recently attended a 3-day super-duper brain-stimulating gathering of most of the finest minds I know. I spent almost zero time over those three days touching any of my technology devices (iphone, ipad, laptop). In fact, it never even OCCURRED to me to check them. Two of them sat uncharged for two days. I didn’t care. This made me realize two things. 1) I was not bored for a single minute during this gathering. 2) Many of the people I care about interacting with most were in that room (outside of my family, of course). My biggest realizations were that I don’t spend enough time doing things that don’t bore me (most conferences and meetings are underwhelming, let’s face it) and I don’t spend enough time with the people who intrigue me most and make my mind whirr. I don’t think that Twitter and Facebook necessarily satisfy both of these, but I think I’m constantly searching for it. Does this resonate with anyone else?

  • Hey Mark — firstly, admitting you have a problem is the first step in the right direction – haha

    Secondly, at least in my case, throwing my smart phone in the ocean as I did on my last fishing trip has been the most productive thing I’ve done in years. I have more quality time with ANYONE I happen to be spending time with during waking hours and I actually get more quality work done.

    The only productive thing I actually miss is having GPS when traveling in different countries. However, on the flip side of that, the most interesting places you’ll discover are the ones found when one becomes lost. Now here’s the real adventure, especially if you happen to not speak the native language very well.

    Stop being a smartphone duchebag — life is much more fun, productive and rewarding with out it!

    Cheers Mark

  • As I was enjoying a gathering with friends this past Saturday, I pulled out my smartphone to share a Facebook status update. One friend looked and me and remarked, “This is Star. She is an iPhone addict.” You know, he’s right. Others I know, both face-to-face and virtually, have the same addition: turning the phone is becoming, for us, almost an impossibility. Social media is key to my professional life, and it’s difficult to be away from the swirl of ‘what’s happening’ for any length of time.

    Still haven’t figured out what I’m going to do about it…

  • “My phone is always with me – but I’m not always with it” Love that Ingrid! Thanks!

  • Yes, can;t lose sight of that! Thanks Davina!

  • I wrote an article awhile back about a UK neurosurgeon who testified to Parliament about the dangers of the constant-connected generation attached to flashing screens. It’s hard for me to stay balanced on this issue and not sound like I’m simply following the pattern of every generation who complains about the next generation but things are going to be very different for our kids and not necessarily better. Thanks Jamie. I know how busy you are so it means a lot that you took the time to comment!

  • If you have a daughter engaging in this type of activity, does that mean she’s a douche-baguette? : ) Thanks for sharing your perspective today Jennifer.

  • Isn’t that funny … it IS like an addiction. We need to hit rock bottom and then have an intervention. Yipes. Thanks, John!

  • This is really an amazing commentary Kary. You are such a great writer. Thanks for sharing yourself so personally like this!!

  • Ouch. Is it live or is it Memorex? : ) Thanks Holly!

  • Food blogging? Sounds like my kind of job. Where can I sign up?

  • Hey Janet! Well that sure brings it home. Tonight I was with my 8-year old mentee and guess what? HE just got a smartphone. Spent dinner time playing with it. It was new and a novelty so i didn’t say anything but I;m sure he is picking some stuff up from me too : (

  • Sometimes that works for me. After the mail is marked as “open” though, sometimes I miss them upon second glance. But, I am a bit of an idiot sometimes : )

  • You can always join our support group Davina. Sounds like we need one!

  • Quite a testimony. And you know … I do miss being lost. You gave me something to think about Mark! Thanks!

  • Oh that had to sting! I do think there is something to accepting that the world of marketing and business is much different. One way I look at it — 90% of my customers are a plane flight away but I rarely travel because of the technology. Yes — I might be looking at my phone, but at least I’m home. There are some advantages. Thanks, Star!

  • I switch off. My work time is work time, and my personal time is personal time. And when I’m with people, I’m with them – the online world will still be spinning when our friend time ends, but our friend time isn’t something we can jump into whenever we want. That time is precious.

    All about prioritizing what’s truly important.

  • Perfectly stated. Thanks Danny!

  • Course, I only started smart-phoning 9 months ago – we’ll see if I make the year. 😉

  • John

    Add to smartphone, iPad…

    We are in danger of thinking that activity = productivity. I remember the same discussion with email and the movement to not be managed by your inbox (which sadly failed).

    Desperate problems require desperate measures:

    1. I actively maintain 2 iPhones (1 work, 1 personal) so i can separate work & personal. My personal phone has no work email.
    2. I’ve uninstalled foursquare – complete waste of time. I’ve got no benefit from checking in everywhere, apart from that vacuous feeling of success by being mayor of my local grocery store.
    3. I switch off (and I mean power down) my work iPhone on evenings & weekends. There has been no emergency or crisis in my 20+ years of working that’s required me to be 24/7. I work in marketing for pete’s sake, not the emergency services.
    4. I got a kindle, so i can read books without alt-tabbing (or double home page pressing on ipad) just to check if anything world-shattering has happened in the last 30 seconds (it hasn’t). Or even more radically, i buy the occasional paper book.
    5. I’ve learnt that being the first to know doesn’t mean i’m smart. So need to be checking twitter to be the first to RT breaking news. Its not big, nor clever.
    6. I physically put devices out of reach (or in other rooms) so when i’m with my family i’m not the one bathed in the glow of my own personal screen.

    (and breathe).


  • Anonymous

    In doubt do the right thing;-) When I start to feel that I am exaggerating with my iPhone I force myself to take a step back.

  • Powerful testimony Michelle. I’m afraid that even in those situation I twitch. Maybe I’m hopeless, or maybe I’m going to the wrong conferences!

  • This is a wonderful list John. It’s such a little thing but even the Kindle thing is genius. Keeps you from twitching. I’ve been consuming audio books and find my concentration is much better because I’m not engaged in other activities. Really great advice. Thank you so much for taking the time to share with us!

  • Thanks Claude!

  • LOL….douche-baguette…thats a good one!!! Thanks for the morning laugh! We just had to put a limit babysitter on her phone…she was up to 14k texts (in/out) since 1/21!!!!!!! YIKES!

  • Any time I read an email that I need to follow up on later — I mark it as unread so I don’t miss it for the reason you stated.

  • This is a great point, Michelle! What’s weird is that, in situations like that, my twitch becomes one to document what’s going on, what’s being said, the ideas floating around. I learn a lot from writing, and jotting notes into Evernote is an integral part of my growth. Does that make sense?

  • And of course the counter support group, the Friends and Family of Smartphone Douchebags Survivors who just want their long-lost loved ones back. 😉

  • Staying in the moment, in here-and-now is important as well!

  • One of the things I do to get ideas on what to write about on my social media marketing plus blog us scan the HEADLINES in google reader. this one caught my eye instantly and the for the record, a darn good read to boot!

  • Kind of you to say. Thank you!

  • Brian Bennett

    Nice piece. I can certainly relate. Hey – man, sorry ’bout those Steelers!
    Cheesehead nation needed that one…

  • Well said, Mark. I confess, I also am guilty of being a smartphone douchebag. I noticed it last year after doing some research about a woman who did a social experiement by plugging herself in 24-hours a day. ( In a way we are all isolated because of our constant need to be connected.

    To remedy my own behavior I made a resolution to understand how relationships are effected by my “addiction.” I try my best to write a handwritten note every day. The simple act of not being on social media allows me to slow down and digest what I read/write and help me to really listen to the person I am engaging with. Still, I keep a blog on the experience so I am not all the way cured 🙂

  • No since you’re a girl you would be douche-baguette.

    LOVE your blog! Thanks for the comment and the great link, Tiffany!

  • It was an exciting game and the whole season came down to the last two minutes. Hard to beat that! Thanks for the sentiments!

  • I need to have the discipline to do that too Meryl.

  • The douchebag label is a little unfair to place upon yourself. Time for you to spend a bit of time at

  • I call ’em as I see ’em : )

  • I have a simple rule: when I am in a face-to-face conversation with someone, I do my utmost to devote my full attention to them: my wife, my son, a colleague — whoever I am with. It’s called “be here, now” and it’s not really that hard to do consistently if you remember what common courtesy entails. I set my iPhone to silent mode, and I will check it only when the conversation is over. This makes for much better in-person relationships because it shows that you value other people’s time. The folks in the ether? They can wait.

  • Pingback: Corner of What and Ever: The Writer’s Block | Marketing, Public Relations and Social Media Blog | Atlanta, GA()

  • Excellent! I am adopting this too Victor!

  • Anonymous

    I’ve learned to leave my phone on the other side of the room… 😉

  • Anonymous

    Sounds to me like a career in life coaching to your dad’s generation (which happens to be mine as well) would be a great fit for you. God knows we need some coaching.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Erika, Love the honesty. Jumping back on the wagon can be considered excercise right?

  • I wish! I telecommute – so exercise is another thing I “need to work on” 🙂

  • Doug Brown

    Mark I got my epiphanic moment courtesy of my 8-year old daughter a few months back. I was on the smartphone being a touchebag at home – responding to a comment on our blog as I recall – and she was trying to tell me something. I half paid attention and finally looked up at her. She said “Well you probably didn’t hear what I said because you’re on your phone again.” It was like being slapped in the face with a frozen cod. I put away the phone (the comment could wait), put her on my lap and promised I would not check my messages when I was with her again.

    The phone now goes away at 5:30 pm and I don’t check it again until I take the dog out for his poo. Oh god, I’m ignoring the dog now though.

    This was a great post. Killer headline too.

  • Pingback: 5 Ways to Escape Your Smartphone | My Escape Velocity()

  • I don’t check my smartphone during face-to-face meetings. Maybe once, if I am expecting something that IS important. It’s only polite as I have chosen to meet with you, and that means full attention.

    I am in Australia mostly. So, in global cities work, international emails and comms do cut into my evenings and mornings at home 5-6 days per week. And that I haven’t solved, except to set an arbitrary disconnect time of 7pm sometimes, 9pm most nights.

    Keep innovating,

    Christopher Hire
    Exec Dir 2thinknow ICP

  • Mark

    I think many of us can relate to this. When I was dating my ex-gf I would come home, sit down to watch a movie or something on TV and break out my laptop. I was just in the habit of it. Needless to say it irked her and caused many fights. As far as the smartphone, I remember when I first got it. It wasn’t long before I found myself tweeting, texting and everything else in between. Since I’e been here in Costa Rica I haven’t even owned a cell phone, which probably seems crazy to some people considering what I do for a living. But it’s been an interesting experience. Even if I wanted to be a “smartphone douchebag” I couldn’t. It is a bit disconcerting that kids think this is how we’re going to connect and build relationships. Hopefully we’ll maintain a balance.

  • Ed

    Great post here! Thank you. I am constantly wondering what is so darn important that everyone has to have their phone out non-stop these days. No one has the ability to just sit quietly and enjoy the silence even.

    I don’t have a smart phone and this is exactly why. And, my kids don’t have them either. People are losing the ability to communicate as human beings. It’s sad.

    I am guilty of this on my computer though. And will check email, twitter, FB, etc. regularly. But, when it is family time, it gets turned off. I made that commitment a long time ago. My kids always come first.

  • Ethnic Food

    EXcellent post

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