Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Devices harming relations: expert

'Breakdown in communication... trust'

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It's happened to us all countless times -- you're telling a friend or co-worker a story when they suddenly whip out their smartphones and start checking emails or typing a text message.

They pretend they're listening, but you know they're tuning you out.

Not tonight honey, I'm expecting a text

ACCORDING to the Pew Research Center in the U.S., 44 per cent of cellphone owners have slept with their device next to their bed to ensure they didn't miss any calls, texts or updates during the night. Other findings:

  • Two-thirds of cell owners admit to checking their phone for messages even though they didn't notice it ringing, vibrating or blinking.
  • Thirty-nine per cent of cell owners say people they know have complained they don't respond promptly to phone calls or text messages.
  • One-third of cell owners say people they know have complained they don't check their cellphone frequently enough.
  • Just six per cent of cell owners say that they have drawn criticism or dirty looks because of the way they were using their phone in public.

It's one thing to be rude -- which this most definitely is, according to Lew Bayer, president of Civility Experts Worldwide and a longtime etiquette expert -- but it's quite another to be rude and not even realize it.

The problem? Our growing dependency on the devices we hold in our hands or keep in our pockets.

"People find being ignored extremely offensive," she said.

"Our research shows people are in the habit of being dependent on their technology and not even realizing the extent to which they're withdrawing physically and visually and making less eye contact (with others)."

You might think you're just trying to keep pace with the speed of communication but there are very real consequences of choosing technology over people, Bayer said.

"People trust you less. They see you as not listening to them, being inattentive, lacking confidence and having low social intelligence," she said.

Young people are notorious offenders and that's rendering them less able to real visual and tonal cues when they're face to face with another human being.

"We used to rely heavily on body language to understand the whole message. Many people are now oblivious (to that). There's a breakdown in communication and a breakdown of trust," she said.

When somebody is confiding in you, they expect that they'll have your full attention and when they see they don't, they feel resentment, mistrust and a lack of a connection, she said.

There's no magic bullet, but Bayer said having cellphones put away from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., for example, while kids do homework and families eat dinner, is a good place to start.

"We managed to do quite well without this technology as kids. Kids should be able to get through a meal or sports event without having to be on their phone texting," she said.

Many parents tell their kids to put their phones away but if they don't talk about the consequences, the child merely sees their mom or dad as an authority figure trying to control them.

Instead of saying, "get off the phone," try "When you don't look at me and pay attention, it makes me feel like you're not really listening and don't care about what I have to say. And what I'm saying is important for your safety,' " she said.

The dependency on technology has reached the point where people no longer automatically shut off their phones during weddings, funerals or in hospitals, let alone movie theatres.

"It's rampant. It's almost a crisis situation in terms of rebuilding real connections with people. There is quite a bit of research out there about a decline in social intelligence because of a reliance on technology as our primary mode of communication. It's really problematic," she said.

And if you remind somebody they're breaching cellphone protocol, you might want to cover your ears as the common response is rude and arrogant.

"They'll say, 'You're not the boss of me, get over it. I just answered the phone. Who cares?' The lack of responsibility for the impact they're having is a big problem," Bayer said.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 19, 2013 A2

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Updated on Friday, April 19, 2013 at 7:47 AM CDT: adds fact box

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