Completely Turned Off

For my job I have to tell every single person I work with to “Please turn off any cell phones you have with you.” A simple enough request you would think. But it isn’t.

I often will hear a vibration during the session. “Can you make sure your phone is completely off?” I ask. “It’s on vibrate. Is that okay?” they reply. No. No it isn’t. “We need it completely off,” I reply.

Other times I will see them turn their phones back on or see screens light up. I have to be the bad guy and firmly remind them.

“But this is my work phone,” they will occasionally shoot back. Hey, not my fault you are supposed to be working and put yourself in this situation.

People like this make me grumble but they are individual problems. There is a whole different breed of people I come across that make me truly worried. These are the people who don’t know how to turn off. Two different types of people fit into this category and they both scare me.

First, I come across people who literally do not know how to turn their phone off. They confide that they have never once had to power it off. These people have never been in a situation they felt required no phone access. They look at me sheepishly for help. And this isn’t just older generations. This includes people younger than I am.

Second, there are people who honestly don’t seem to know what off means when it comes to their phones. I will say, “Turn your phone off.” They will respond, “It’s on vibrate. Does it need to be on silent?” Sometimes they will even ask if I mean airplane mode. As if the concept of the power actually turning off will never have crossed their minds.

(Side note: Sometimes I will tell people to turn their phones off and they will dejectedly inform me that it is dead. As if this is the only time a phone could be completely powered down.)

The two groups scare me for one reason. In their recent and current lives these people seem to have never been in situations where they can’t press a button and see notifications. I imagine these people at a funeral quietly checking to see if someone posted to Twitter, looking at a snap during their daughter’s wedding, obsessively checking for a texted reply as they sit in a meeting where their boss explains about the unfortunate need to downsize. At any given point in time these people could be looking for distraction and they know the option is always there.

Impulse becomes controlled only by the individual. The only thing standing between these people and constant disengagement from the real world is their self-control. And I doubt the strength of the self-control of anyone who has never turned their phone off.

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