7 tips to dealing with people's mobile phone obsession

Feb 22, 2016 by Brendan Jack

Odds are that you probably aren’t a hostage negotiator, however, a lot of people are taken hostage by their cellphones. They crave the promise of something new, something that distracts with an alert tone.

Stats say we’re checking our phones around 150 times a day.

Social media and cellphones are the new cigarettes and alcohol, lighting up our brains with dopamine.

We all love our mobile phones, they’re amazing machines. But life is about people and sometimes these devices get the better of us. We need to remember the fundamentals. Sometimes the phone needs to be put on hold.


Forget airtime and think about face time (not Apple FaceTime). Airtime costs money, but not as much as face-to-face time.

How much is someone’s real time worth? If you started billing people who called you to a meeting and then spent their time on a phone, you’d soon see priorities change.

Do they have your full attention?

When someone gives you time, be respectful and pay attention. When you glance at your phone while they’re speaking, you’re not truly listening. Sure you’re good at multi-tasking, but you’re not completely engaged – you’re running on half power.

If someone ignores you for their phone, you know they’re not mentally engaged and it can damage trust. Put yourself in the other seat: How would you feel if someone kept missing parts of your conversation because their phone was far more fascinating?

If there’s an emergency on the go – maybe your kid’s not well or the plumber’s calling back about a burst pipe – consider mentioning this at the beginning of the conversation. This way everyone’s in on the script.

Eye contact

Not to be confused with iContact – eye contact is fundamental for human connection. Don’t waste the opportunity. Even if you’re an introverted type, make use of real-life FaceTime for iContact.

Giving someone your time is about respect. If someone gives you their time, then stop fiddling with your phone.

Table manners

The phone on the table is a common sight. Consider putting it out of sight, like in your pocket on silent. Or better still, pretend you’re taking a flight for a few hours and put it on flight mode.

In boardrooms, try moving your phone to a laptop bag rather than a pocket. If you want to get everyone to focus throughout a meeting, suggest a cellphone box or counter where phones are put out of reach (and on silent) for the duration of the meeting.

Are you a doctor?

If you’re a doctor then you are allowed a few concessions. The president? Also fine. If not, then it can probably wait. Check that funny cat link in your private time. Instagram can wait. Michelangelo might never have finished the Sistine Chapel if he was constantly checking Pinterest or his blog comments. Unlikely due to no decent Vatican Wi-Fi in 1480, but you get the point.

If someone keeps defaulting to their phone when they’re with you, ask if there’s an emergency – make them aware that their phone is getting a lot of attention. Ask when they can schedule time away from the phone and if can they fit you in around then.

Zombie nation

It’s not just one person ignoring another, entire groups of people in social situations stare at their hands, not talking to one another.

You know there’s a problem when it’s easier to WhatsApp someone across the room – rather than getting their attention by speaking to them.

The zombie virus has been spreading for years, people walking and driving around with their eyes on a small screen, half engaged with reality and the digital world, not being completely mindful of their surroundings. It starts strong in the youth, but has quickly spread across the generations and age groups. Don’t walk, drive or Zimmer frame and text. It’s dangerous. You can always make light of the phone situation with Mobile Flight Mood.


No phone interface can beat face-to-face. Unless the person is totally boring and you’re trying to get out of speaking to them – but that’s a completely different problem.

Back in the old days, going to a bar often meant everyone went to a place for the night and dug in, making the most of the situation. It was about quality not quantity. These days our phones go off all the time and we end up being pulled around to various places. Keeping up with your phone is tiring. Rather forget the FOMO and concentrate on the right now. Try out some analogue icebreakers face to face, such as Bands Split Up, The Numbers, A Sweet Prediction or the Pen Palette.

Summing up

Celebrate the phone, but also embrace humanity. Turning off a phone can turn on a real relationship.

They’re small computers, there to work for us – not for us to work for them. We’re already dealing with the endless admin of software updates and new app notifications.

Constant phone feeds can offer new insights or creative tangents, but we think best without information pumping at us 24/7.

Take a moment to clear your mind. And then speak to the person in front of you.

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