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18 January 2019
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You talkin’ to me?

14 September 2015 

In recent years we have begun to rely on emails, voicemail and text messages as the primary methods as we seek immediacy of communication, blogs John Bowen.


Like me, you probably know people who run more than one mobile phone (maybe you do yourself) and can’t bear to be out of touch. We seem to have developed an insatiable appetite for instant contact, but without any thought for the consequences.


When you make a call you can never tell at that moment what the other person is doing, but before mobiles you’d ring them and if they weren’t available you could probably just leave a message. Business calls would be made from the comfort and – relatively speaking – private surroundings of your desk. You still don’t know what the other person is doing when you call their mobile number, but these days they could be anywhere and it is very possible that they will not be somewhere when they can have sufficient privacy to hold a business call.


Last week on the train back from London a guy sat down across the aisle from me and called his office. I could not only hear him, but also about two-thirds of what the person he was calling was saying as he had his phone on speaker. He proceeded to give a rundown on the meeting that he had been to, and discussed the client concerned in the most derogatory terms, completely oblivious of his surroundings and the fact that there were at least three guys in suits sat within earshot, any one of whom might have had an interest in what was being said.


But all three of us know who he is, who he works for, what they do, who one of his clients is and what they do, the names and job titles of some of their team, and more besides.


What intrigues me is why all this indiscretion goes on because there was nothing that this guy said that couldn’t have waited until he got into the office the next morning, so why make a public exhibition of himself and his company? Is it simply because his mobile phone allows such immediate communication that makes an apparently intelligent person behave so irresponsibly? And I do mean irresponsible because although I can’t speak for the other two guys within earshot, I would be very reluctant to use this company.


Being overheard is not the only problem with using all this technology because aside from all the security issues over mobile phone and internet connections, there is the general fact that all of these things are only push technology, and we tend to regard something as done if we’ve sent an email or text, or left a voicemail.


The onus has been passed to the other party to respond, but when will they be able to do so? I was listening to a pitch the other week where the security system supplier talked about any incident triggering an SMS message so that there could be an immediate response. The obvious truth is that there might be a response soon after the time taken to transmit, receive and read the message. But you can’t rely on that because the reaction requires the other person being able to respond at that moment.


Communication may be quicker than it used to be, but we need to remember that communication is still two-way and all of the technology we have available is just a tool to help that. Like all tools, they need to be used wisely or they will fail you – maybe even hurt you.


John Bowen is an FM consultant