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Are you a smartphone addict?

Do you love your smartphone a little too much? According to Leah Jones, account manager at agency CommsCo, if so you are not alone. She explains the modern conundrum of mobile phones being vital to our work, but also a source of distraction: “There’s no doubt that many people are addicted to their smartphones, and with mobile phones often on desks and at bedsides, the temptation stays with you at all hours. Who doesn’t have their phone by their beds, even though it’s known to be bad for sleep? At work, smartphones can be a form of distraction and procrastination, but in the same vein, they also allow us to be connected to our colleagues and clients around the world. Because of this, they are both gift and curse.”

Fight the power

Jones believes it is vital to find a way to use phones, without them taking over your life: “We need to strike the balance when it comes to smartphones – you can easily slip into obsessive behaviour and the need to be connected, in fear of missing out on something. We also use them way too much for data and email, and not enough for what they were originally intended for. We need to talk to people more.

“As the saying goes, everything in moderation is probably the right call – they are incredibly useful for being up to date with social, potential crisis, emails and news – however, observing some sort of boundaries that mean you can dedicate time to other matters both for work and personally is an absolute essential to stay focused and happy.”

Striking a balance is easier said than done, and three PROs below explain just how compelling their mobiles are.

My name is … and I am a smartphone addict

“I probably am a smartphone addict, but I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing,” says Rachel Knight, account director at PR and marketing agency Maxim. “I get frequent notifications from various social media platforms, which are very often work-related. They tend to appear sooner on a phone than a desktop, which enables me to take action promptly and generally more easily. Some platforms such as Instagram simply don’t work on a desktop.

“Breaking news alerts are also instant and that can be really useful in our industry. I monitor various sources on behalf of Maxim and clients which again, is often easier to do on a phone.

“Some clients prefer to communicate through WhatsApp or text so there isn’t really an option of not checking frequently. That said, I don’t find it any more disruptive than email notifications or phone calls. In an agency, everyone is used to multitasking, working with different clients across numerous tasks, so it’s not really a big deal.

“I do occasionally think people might assume I’m not working when I’m looking at my phone but nine times out of 10, they’d be wrong.”

“At work I am on my phone pretty much all the time, but I would argue this is not an issue,” says Lawrence Francis, director of strategy and consumer brand PR at PR agency Premier. “It is vital for us as a busy global agency to be connected all the time in order to get things done. The issue comes at home. I have a 22-month-old son, who I fear is already addicted to devices, in no small part because ‘Daddy is always on his emails’ (my son even says ‘goodnight iPad’ before he falls to sleep!) I honestly do make an effort to switch off sometimes, but to be honest I am not very good at it and get anxious when my phone is in the other room… Perhaps this is an idea for a PR-wide new year’s resolution to revolutionise the mental health of our industry? Can we make 2018 the year when we all switch off our phones when we get home…? I somehow doubt it!”

You might not like to admit it, but you are probably an addict too, says Neil Kleiner, partner and strategic head of digital at agencies Newgate Communications and Publicasity: “It’s estimated we touch our phones over 2,500 times a day… but we aren’t calling anyone. We are consuming and creating ‘stuff’ at an unprecedented scale. At home, it’s annoying enough, but at work it’s an entirely different level. I once knew a client who rejected an agency during a pitch process because the MD was flicking through Twitter during the actual pitch. “How horrific”, I hear you cry. “We’d never do that”, you protest. But we all do it. Me included.   

“As communications professionals, we all have to be plugged in to the news agenda and social media, but in meetings, brainstorms and (obviously pitches) we need to not have our heads down in the screen, but heads up in the world around us. As an agency, we also love tools like Slack and Workplace, but a good old-fashioned face to face chat still trumps a screen every time.

“But looking at my Apple Watch, that’s totally fine, right?”

Talking cures

There are ways to combat phone addiction in the office and Naomi Aharony, managing director of agency Reboot Marketing, describes how her agency restricts phone use: “It became frustrating when I was talking to colleagues about work and they were either texting or on social media whilst I did so. Even though they would nod their head, I could tell they had not fully acknowledged what I said to them. This belief would later be confirmed in the form of misunderstandings and errors they would make in key reports and audits for clients. To combat this, we introduced a policy whereby employees could only use their smartphones for a five-minute block every hour, with a longer exception being made for emergencies. Since its introduction last year, the policy has done wonders. With the significant distraction of smartphones contained, our employees have not only become more receptive to what’s going on in our industry but more willing to positively interact with one another. “

Technology to fight technology

For David Alexander, managing director of agency Calacus PR, the solution to phone addiction is through using other smart technologies, plus a little willpower: “I use PushBullet, which can be customised to alert you via your desktop of notifications you wish not to ignore. I also have WhatsApp on my computer, so my phone can remain out of sight unless I get a call.

“What is more problematic is the use of a smartphone habitually when away from the working environment. I try and limit the number of times I check it out of hours unless I have a major event or campaign going on. People can call if it’s urgent but otherwise, it can become too all-consuming.”

The reason our smartphones are so enthralling is because they offer us instant gratification, by connecting us to other people and information. However, as speedily as they connect us to people far away, they disconnect us from the people we are actually with. Like any addiction, it is hard to break your connection to your favourite device, but it is worth making the effort if you don’t want to p*ss off everyone around you. But enough about that, must dash, I’ve got a text to attend to…

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