I don’t think that Sherry Turkle would be very pleased with Joe Queenan‘s column in the Wall Street Journal, entitled “The Ringing Insult of a Turned Off Phone” (March 11-12, p. C11).
Turkle, whose book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age (Penguin Press, 2015), was the subject of one of my presentations at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas, argued that the presence of a cell phone on a table disrupts conversation. This is not because anyone is talking on it. Rather, it is that someone may call or text, and the potential for that to happen negatively impacts interpersonal communication. If you missed my synopsis, you can purchase the recording and handout at 15MinuteBusinessBooks.com.
Queenan’s column questions why anyone carries around a turned-off cell phone. In a funny analogy, he asks, “do they turn off their belts in the morning and then act surprised that they can’t get their pants to stay up the rest of the day….do they miss their dinner because they forgot to charge their fork?”
Further, “I have no problem with people turning off their phones at funerals. But there is actually a thing on cellphones called the silent mode. And yes, you can also put your phone on vibrate. If you know that someone is coming to meet you for lunch and might get stuck in traffic or be forced to bail entirely, what would possess you turn off your phone? Why not turn off your brain while you’re at it?”
These are two different perspectives on the purpose and impact of cell phones. Queenan, however, seems to hold cell phones to a higher standard than the old-fashioned landline. There are plenty of times someone called a landline and got busy signals or voice-mails, instead of a live person ready to talk. The impact is the same. The caller did not get to talk to the receiver.
But, think about this. Why you want to hold cell phones to a higher standard, especially with the threat to the quality and quantity of conversation, as Turkle discusses? What’s wrong with focusing on the person you are with F2F, and having a pleasant or worthwhile conversation?
Today, I picked my newspaper up off the lawn and brought it in to my house to read with my coffee. I didn’t have to take my daughter to school because of President’s Day, so I came back inside my house.
From all indications, this ritual is on the road to extinction. Many reports predict that all newspapers will transform to on-line versions where readers can see the content on a PC, mobile device, tablet, cell phone, or other electronic piece. Indeed, some newspapers have already gone that route, in the midst of many others folding.
Many of you may not be old enough to remember the milkman. When I was little, competing dairies would deliver two bottles of milk, ice cream, butter, and other goods directly to your door. Only one service still does that today, Schwann’s, and it has added many other food items and ready-to-eat meals in order to be profitable. If we don’t intervene, the delivery of daily print newspapers will go the way of the milkman.
This does not have to be the case! I am reminded in the now-classic work by Jim Collins, Good-to-Great, where he discusses the Hedgehog Concept. Of the three components, one is “understanding the denominator that drives your economic engine.” Or in other words, what is it that keeps your lights turned on?
For newspapers, this is not subscriptions. The number of subscribers to daily and weekend newspapers continues to dwindle nationwide. If the denominator were subscribers, print newspapers would be history.
Clearly, the economic factor is advertising. As long as companies are willing to advertise in print editions of papers, we will still have them produced and delivered.
If you love your paper delivered to your door, if you like picking it up off the lawn and taking it with you when you leave in the morning, the key is not to encourage your friends and co-workers to subscribe. Rather, it is to frequent the advertisers who invest in the paper with your business, and further, to let them know that the ad they placed in the paper influenced your buying decision. You can say at Macy’s, “I want to see the dress you advertised in the paper on Sunday,” which reinforces that is how you got there.
The simplest way to reinforce print advertising is to use the coupons that businesses pay for to print, giving you discounts or tw0-for-one purchases. If customers don’t use them, advertisers will stop paying for the newspapers to print them. And, when advertisers stop paying for printing, that will turn out the lights for papers.
Think about that. Do you really want a world where there are no print newspapers? Where everyone stares at a cell phone or tablet on the bus? Where you can’t sneak a peek at a headline and make a mental note to find more about it later? Where you eat cereal with your spoon in one hand and your stylus in the other? Where you have to send a link to a friend instead of clipping an article with a handwritte note and mailing it? Really – do you also appreciate receiving e-Cards?
Not me. I’ve got my coupons from Saturday’s and Sunday’s paper. I’m ready to turn them in this week. I want to support print editions.
The good news is that there are plenty of households that still subscribe to physical newspapers. Many homes on my street, including me, have more than one paper thrown and waiting for them each day. I also take the print edition of the Wall Street Journal. We are not starting from a base of zero.
If enough people want to keep papers printed, we can do that. It is just a decision that enough of us need to make and want to do.
How about you? Let’s talk about it really soon!