The View

Sadly, there’s no cure for this annoying mobile device behaviour

‘The clock cannot be turned back on this world of instant communication but that does not mean that people cannot think more carefully before acting and, please, please lower the volume in public places’’

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 July, 2017, 2:24pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 July, 2017, 11:40pm

Sitting in a restaurant attempting to have dinner with a friend we were greatly bothered by someone at a nearby table shouting in Russian at his mobile device. As we shuffled our pasta around the plates the volume grew louder and we asked the manager whether he could ask this noisy gentleman to respect other diners who were keen on having their own conversations.

The manager went over and muttered something inaudible, the noisemaker was rather clearer as he explained that he was having a business meeting and might just have got carried away.

This got me thinking. My first thought was why on earth did he believe it was a good idea to be talking business at high volume, presumably via Skype? Maybe he reckoned that no one in the restaurant would understand Russian but they sure as hell would have recognised his noise.

When I came to ponder further on this matter I came up with a number of instances, particularly in hotels, where I’ve witnessed individuals parading around talking loudly into earpieces with a microphone function. I might be mistaken but some of these individuals seem to be in semi-performance mode as they upped the volume when saying things like: “sure, we can screw him with that” or “yeah well, add another mill that should do it”.

No doubt those in attendance were supposed to be impressed by these macho displays of mobile conferencing; if so I failed the being impressed test because these guys (I’ve never heard a woman doing this sort of thing) just looked like total plonkers to me.

Surely business is supposed to be conducted in private and a certain degree of discretion is required when speaking either to colleagues or business partners.

However technology has now made business on the move something that many people like to do or are compelled to do.

The days are long gone when “out of office” meant not at work. In many ways this is convenient but in other ways it not only imposes something of a yoke around people’s necks, it can also be intrusive and has security implications.

Some of the dangers are obvious such as your work being observed by others when using public spaces as your office. Less obvious are the risks of using public wi-fi networks, which tend to come with minimal security and leave users open to all manner of hacking. Then, of course, if you must insist on bellowing into your mobile device don’t complain if you are overheard.

These risks seem pretty obvious but there is another factor here that worries me and it relates to the need for constant and immediate response. Sometimes it is really helpful to be able to respond right on the spot. But at other times responses need to be more considered and what is done in haste can cause enormous problems.

I am from a dinosaur generation that communicated with my London office by phone, at great expense, this exerted a telling disciple on time wasting but I also had to use telex – that was pretty cumbersome as it involved inputting whatever needed to be inputted and then reading it back before inserting the tape into the machine for transmission. The demands of the process gave you time to think and time to reconsider. I can’t say how often this involuntary delay saved me but it was often.

Then there were the occasions when the office in London was bothering me over things I didn’t want to be bothered over. I had a battery of strategies for dealing with this. Among the favourites were on the lines of “sorry I can’t hear you”, cue for a crackling sound easily reproduced with screwed up paper, or when things got really tough, there was the option of cutting the line, which could be interpreted as a dropped call. Plus, of course, because you had no mobile devices you simply could not be contacted anywhere or anytime – what bliss!

And it’s bliss that’s long gone as you are pursued by various forms of electronic messaging, which are inescapable and leave a written trail for future reference.

Too much communication, in other words, can be a thoroughly bad thing.

The suspicion lingers that the advance of mobile communications and the emergence of the so called mobile office has made the process of communication almost an end in itself. It’s really convenient to get very rapid responses to this that and the other but what is the value of these responses? Surely that’s a pretty important question.

The clock cannot be turned back on this world of instant communication but that does not mean that people cannot think more carefully before acting and, please, please lower the volume in public places.

Stephen Vines runs companies in the food sector and moonlights as a journalist and a broadcaster