“Technology can be our best friend, and technology can also be the biggest party pooper of our lives. It interrupts our own story, interrupts our ability to have a thought or a daydream, to imagine something wonderful, because we’re too busy bridging the walk from the cafeteria back to the office on the cell phone.”
~Steven Spielberg

I love my cell phone.

If I had to give it up tomorrow, it would drastically change the way I live my life. I read my email, listen to music, watch movies, take pictures of my kids, shoot video, and communicate with friends. Heck, I even make calls sometimes!
That said, I still have to remember that there is a time and a place — and that is not when I’m sitting at a table with a bunch of fellow networkers — and especially not when there is only one.

I was at an event today aimed at high school and college students. Observing their networking style over lunch, I can only say “You need to put down your phones.” Whole tables were sitting with their heads down, staring into the palms of their hands. Maybe they were sending messages to their friends (most were actually playing games), but, really, no electronic conversation can compare with a face-to-face connection with the person next to you.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not decrying to deplorable manners of our youth. I’ve seen the same behavior from Millennials, Gen Xers, and Baby Boomers. Something about that little windows into cyberspace lulls us with it’s siren song and before you know it, it has sucked away opportunities to develop real connections with those around us.

You can’t change how those around you behave, but you can still police your own actions. Here are a few questions you should consider before you pull out your cell phone next time:

  1. Have I completed my networking goals? What are you trying to accomplish by being here? Were you supposed to meet three new people? Have you done it yet?
  2. How will potential networking connections perceive my phone usage? Hint: They don’t think you are high-powered and in demand. They think you are aloof and rude.
  3. Can this wait? Sure, if you are in the middle of a family or business crisis, then you need to make yourself available. Of course, if that’s the situation, why are you at a networking event? You should be with the people who need you. Otherwise, most other issues can wait until you are done talking with the person in front of you.
  4. Do I have to do this here? If you absolutely have to take a call or check in at the office in some way, excuse yourself. There’s something off-putting about sitting next to someone while they talk on the phone. If you excuse yourself, they at least have the opportunity to strike up a conversation with someone else — maybe your competitor.
  5. Could the technology become a connector? If someone else has their technology out, ask them about it. Apple or Android? Favorite/most productive apps? What kind of phone are they looking at next? People love their tech and are usually quite passionate about the relative benefits of what they chose.
  6. What am I going to miss? Whatever you are looking at on your phone will still be there in an hour. The same can’t be said of the person sitting next to you, the speaker at the front of the room, or the opportunities they could have connected you with, had you made the effort to connect with them.

The cell phone, in and of itself, is not an evil invention. It has the capability to connect us to the world around us and keep us in touch with friends and family. Like any tool, though, it has a dark side. Be sure that your use takes you in the direction you want to go.

Photo by David Levy