Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

Zen and the Art of Switching Off Your Phone


Yesterday in my yoga class, someone took a call on their mobile phone. Not a “I’m at yoga; will call you back” call either, but a prolonged two-way conversation that involved a lot of listening, some suggesting and proferring of ideas that we all got to hear, since the yoga studio is small. My yoga teacher said, “Let’s just have a pause in the child pose while Isabel takes her call”, and then after a while, “It’s taking longer than I thought. Let’s move on then.”

The mere fact that her phone was on during yoga class is astonishingly rude. The fact that she answered it and then went on to have a four-minute conversation is staggering. The fact that she returned to the class and DIDN’T APOLOGISE is mind-blowing. I think it’s the self-importance that enrages me more than the rudeness – if you are having a crisis in your life that requires you to be available 24/7, DON’T COME TO YOGA. Otherwise, switch off your bloody phone, take a message and call back afterwards. The class only lasts an hour.

Today’s Times Online has a great article on how technology, particularly mobile phones and those relationship-threateners, BlackBerrys and iPhones, is promoting a new level of distractedness not only from the moment but from those most important to us. Couples are having to lay down ground rules as to when BlackBerry use is acceptable and when not – during an anniversary dinner, not acceptable; on the beach while on holiday with your family, NOT acceptable. The article says:

However, the only way a new etiquette can really work is through increased self-awareness on the part of the user. For starters, users have to realise how their behaviour can affect others. As Lloyd-Elliot says: “There is something arrogant about the mindset that goes with this trend — the sense of always thinking that what you’ve got to say is so important it can’t wait. There’s also an absence of thoughtful empathy; how you are making those around you feel.”

Dr Emma Short, a senior lecturer in psychology, agrees. “It’s about being mindful about the choices you make. Whenever you take a call or reply to a message in front of someone, you are prioritising what is an absent presence.” In terms of your relationship and how your partner feels, she says, think about who you are promoting above whom when you hear that beep or see that flashing light.

I remember when mobile phone use first became ubiquitous sitting around and waiting in social situations for people to complete their very important phone conversation so that they could get back to conversing with me. I resolved never to have one. Since having children, I’ve caved in and I have to admit it is a useful tool – on holiday in Greece, my kids were able to chat to their dad in Germany and I could abuse the cheap car company when yet another of their crap vehicles broke down. But a mobile is nothing more than that, a tool, and one of which we should be in charge and to which we should not allow ourselves to become victim.

Isabel’s vague shrug as she returned to the yoga class yesterday was just that, the shrug of a victim. Her shrug said, “Don’t blame me, blame my phone.”

I think what overreliance on mobile technology most underscores is the inability to be in the moment. If you have to pick up the phone to tell someone what a great time you’re having WHILE YOU’RE HAVING IT, then how much fun are you actually having? And if you can’t switch off from your life for a one-hour yoga class – a place where more than anywhere you are practising the art of being in the moment – then PERHAPS YOU SHOULDN’T ATTEND.

Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

41 thoughts on “Zen and the Art of Switching Off Your Phone

  1. Some folks are incapable of mindfulness or any self-awareness.One of my siblings is mobile addicted and cannot seem to understand how offended I feel to think that my presence is to more worth attending to than a phone. And I have explicitly stated this as well.

  2. I’ve never seen that kind of behaviour in a yoga class! I’ll confess to leaving my phone on vibrate next to my mat during the first class or two I attended after I started yoga again post-little elf’s birth but I explained why to the teacher and asked if it would be okay and that I would simply be leaving and not coming back. Once she’d passed the two months mark (I was more paranoid than supermum), I started turning it off again.

    The other thing I’ve noticed is texting in meetings (or tweeting). The interesting think is, mind , that this would now be the social norm in a tech conference, even in a small group seminar. But I suppose the motivation for the activity would be different – instead of virtually relocating to a different space and group from the one you’re engaged in, tweeting or live-blogging something is an act of drawing a wider group of people into where you are. Texting isn’t, though.

    • DWW, I’ve got nothing against the phone being on vibrate if there’s an emergency situation at home. I’m sure that there is a lot more to be written about the etiquette of tweeting, which is totally acceptable in a tech space, but, as the article says, tweeting while at your anniversary dinner just isn’t.

  3. Yoga is definitely one place where phones should be off – unless there is a life threatening emergency looming – and even then it could be switched to silent and you should leave the room when it does ring!

    Perhaps each new phone should come with an etiquette guide as well as a user manual!

    I know I’ve got too dependent on my phone when out and about – ringing up to confirm exactly which sort of cold glue I should be buying for the DIY job in hand, instead of writing down exact details beforehand.

    • Kit, I think that’s it. Phones allow us to operate in a kind of shorthand, and not have to commit to having information before we need it. Everything becomes vague and leaves people with loopholes that can be exploited.

  4. wow. just wow.

    although, i have to say that prioritising technological distractions is not new to the mobile-phone era. i used to row with my ex constantly over his inability to even acknowledge my presence when *the television* was on. i can’t tell you how many times i said “the television is an object – i’m a real live person standing in front of you! pay attention to me!”

    luckily, neither my husband nor i are crazy about mobile phones. the internet, on the other hand…

  5. Hey Admiral. It’s interesting how addicting being networked is. Maybe we all have an inner Borg. I race to my computer every morning and my husband checks his email on iPhone as soon as he wakes up. But I really, really try to stay away from my network when the kids are around. It’s astonishingly hard. But back to your story, I’m not clear on why Isabel couldn’t simply step out of the room. Or why the instructor couldn’t ask her to do so. Weak, passive yoga instructors who can’t manage their classrooms (and weak, passive rest of us who are too intimidated to make a reasonble, polite request) help enable these egomaniacs.

    • Well she was out of the room, but our studio is so small and only has a three-quarter dividing wall that her conversation still dominated the class. As you say, something should have been said – next Friday I will ask her to make sure her phone is switched off. No more enabling!

  6. The fact that this happened in a yoga class instead of say…a step class is so funny. Isn’t the purpose of yoga to help relax? I would think of yoga as a BREAK from my everyday goings-on…especially the cell phone! (which we also resisted until recently)

  7. I haven’t seen that in yoga class…yet…it would drive me batty.

    I usually associate these lapses of tech-etiquette with younger people, but have found that my mom is actually pretty bad. She’ll take calls from friends or siblings when we’re out at restaurants, or actually call her friends and chat when she’s riding in the car with me! And she has this habit of purposely repeating what they’re saying so that *I* can hear it too! It’s SO annoying. I think she is getting retribution for my teen years…

  8. I’d just finished reading the Times article when I read your post, and it reminded me of a colleague who became so insensed with her husband who was endlessly reading emails and taking calls on his BlackBerry during a family holiday that she picked it up and threw it into Lac de Bourget. There followed a certain amount of marital tension but as she said “a least the bloody thing couldn’t keep ringing”.

  9. I think we need to get bolder in our response to cell users. That teacher could have asked her student to leave the class while making the call. When I have a friend over, I don’t answer my landline unless it’s from my kids’ school. The same should go for cell phones. That’s what voicemail is for.

  10. Someone’s phone once went off in the opera. We were at Cosi Fan Tutti, right in the middle of the key aria, the fat bloke was doing his singing thing – and anyway his voice wasn’t really quite powerful enough, you had to strain to hear him – and this damn phone went off. It rang for AGES!. You could tell it put the singer off, and rather broke the mood.

    People are like that.

  11. Oooh, I can’t believe she took that call. How self-absorbed can one be? I’m not keen on phones in general, but I despise cell phones. Yes, I do have one, we all do, but they are really only used in emergencies and I would never think of myself as so important that I had to leave mine on all the time. I guess the “immer erreichbar” syndrome is everywhere these days, even in yoga class!

  12. Here’s the thing you need:

    Carry it everywhere, but especially to yoga class! I think I might get one myself.

  13. I saw someone — who I know doesn’t work and her family was with her so I doubt it was some life or death thing — who sent a text during church. She finished her message, a very lengthy one, before standing to join in the prayer. Live blogging the Lord’s Prayer? Probably not necessary. I put the yoga call in the same category. It amazes me that people must be told when cell phones are unacceptable.

    I made the comment on your FB page that I don’t turn off the phone at the doctor’s. I want to elaborate: I would never take a call when I’m in the examing room with the doc, but when I’m in the waiting room — always a wait regardless — I do keep the blackberry turned on. If I’m at the MDs, it’s the middle of the day & I do have an obligation to work if I’ve dashed away for a short time for an exam. I always step out of the office if I get a call, and the bb is always on vibrate. But, what gets me is that medical offices post signs about how cell phones interfere with their equipment. This is either a blatant lie or just plain ignorance — most of their systems run on cellular technology. I’d probably comply with a sign that read: TALKING ON YOUR MOBILE IS RUDE AND DISTRACTING TO OTHERS IN THE WAITING ROOM. PLEASE DON’T MAKE SICK PEOPLE MORE UNCOMFORTABLE THAN THEY ALREADY ARE. But don’t tell me that it’s going to crash some machine because I don’t want somebody so technically antiquated practicing medicine on me.

    It’s the same with airplanes. But, it makes sense that we don’t allow them — traveling in coach (aka steerage) is uncomfortable enough without having to listen to other people’s private conversatons. But, when did a phone ever crash an aircraft?

    What have we come to that we have to exaggerate and threaten — with technological demise or by federal regulation — to get people not to use their phones in places where inappropriate.

    It’s too bad that your yoga class can’t take a vote to expel the troublesome, student. Maybe your instructor will focus next week on how self-importance can really f* up your chakras.

  14. Yuk. I hate listening to other people’s phone calls. I almost never use my cell phone. I think people have lost a certain civility…maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I think there is a lot of rudeness out there that people don’t even comprehend as rude anymore.

  15. I love Cam’s comment.
    I always have my cell and it’s always on and that’s been true for over 15 years. But I know how to use vibrate, and I stand and leave a restaurant if I need to take a call.

  16. I have never – ever – ever – seen someone answer a phone in a yoga class. I don’t know whether I would laugh or cry! I have to be on call for work every six weeks which means carrying a pager and a work blackberry with me 24/7 and I just don’t go to yoga that week because I would DIE if I was paged during class.
    I will admit both Sam and I are a little too connected to our blackberries because of our jobs – we are working on it.

  17. My yoga teacher would have snapped her vertebrae with one withering look, rendering her functionally unable for the rest of her life to even lift a cell phone, let alone answer one. The fact that you have resorted to CAPS Charlotte, shows just how much this got stuck in your craw 🙂

  18. Taking a call during yoga class??? Wow, just wow.

    Now, speaking as someone who is pissing off her husband with some little harmless distraction called Twitter… I need to do something about this, and now.

  19. Hurray, this is a fabulous post! I don’t have a cell phone, though increasingly I am beginning to realize it might come in handy sometimes. I despise people on the bus talking (and over there there is always someone talking on a cell phone, even at bloody 6:30 am), I don’t want to listen to their conversation, and I think it’s rude to take a call when you are supposed to be with someone else. I suppose that’s why I’ve avoided them, I want time on my own, to be my own time. I hate knowing that I can be found at any time…..though I suppose that’s why my son who’s 20 does carry it around. He hates being unconnected. Interesting that the person in your class didn’t apologize, even though the call interrupted something.

    As you can see, your post certainly touched a nerve with many people!

  20. I’ve got one better. Someone’s cell phone went off during a wedding ceremony!!! Just as the bride was about to say her vows! Everyone, including the bride stopped, we all turned to the man who was heard saying in an annoyed tone, “Dude, why are you calling me, I’m at a wedding…what? Can you hear me now?” I’m so not kidding. It was pathetic.

  21. Well said Charl! What an impertinence! I get so cross just when people turn up late, and while I am try to concentrate on my third eye or whatever they are klappering around with their mats and rustling in their bags. I try to see it as a challenge for me to shut out the outside world, but I mean REALLY. Anyway, here is my mobile phone story, witnessed by my husband in the work canteen: Man in suit chatting importantly on phone whilst carrying heavy tray full of crockery and food (soup, pasta with lots of sauce, yoghurt ) on other arm. Tray starts to wobble and he slaps it up to his chest trying to save it. 🙂 There is some justice in this world.

  22. Great post – I couldn’t agree more! I loved when we on a trip in Japan how all of the public trains had signs saying you could not talk on your mobile in those carriages – it was bliss!

  23. Argh! Charlotte, this story – this issue – makes me BURN – and it’s not the Downward Dogs! I haaaaate how *rude* everyone is about their precious technology. It drives me insane. And I am in agreement with the comments about saying something. That’s the only way some of these grey areas of new technology etiquette will be resolved. A little tap on the shoulder and, “Excuse me, but please take that outside. Everyone else is actually here for a yoga class.” (Although what I’d personally like to add is, “And despite your all-consuming obsession with yourself, it’s not, I repeat not, all about you.”)

  24. I am a big politeness and etiquette freak. I think the world would be infinitely nicer if people paid a little more attention and were just a little kinder and more gracious. My husband is terrible for the mobile phone thing and I tell him off regularly but he just can’t help himself. I don’t understand what it is – but it may have something to do with his butterfly brain. Whatever the latest distraction is, it has a good grip on his mind. I also think that twitter should be banned from conferences. The number of speeches/interviews that have been derailed by the audience twittering and coming to its own boorish conclusions is getting alarming. If someone is brave enough to stand on a platform and address a big audience, that audience owes them full attention and no judgement until question time.

    I get very stern about these things! 🙂

  25. I can’t believe that the teacher allowed her to take that phone call without throwing her out or at least shaming her for it afterwards. What a self-absorbed freak!

  26. I loath mobile phones. It could be because my fingers are so slow at texting that even my parents are better than me but I think it’s because they promote the idea of 24 hour availability which is awful.

  27. I hear you, Charlotte! I would have been steamed also — that is just nuts! I still can’t believe that people don’t mind having their private conversations heard by everyone — do they think they’re that important? Most of the time, they sound like idiots too. It is a kind of arrogant self-centeredness…ARGH!

  28. great post, like usual Charlotte.

    We have a cell phone. No one knows the number except our son and my husband’s sister. I don’t even know the number, I have to look it up in my address book when it is required, which is almost never.

    Our position is, the telephone is for our convenience, not the convenience of every yahoo in the world that wants to talk. If people wish to converse with me, they need to call the land line. If I am eating dinner, I won’t answer it and they can leave a message, which I will respond to presently. If I am sleeping, I won’t hear the call because there is only one phone in the house and it is NOT in my bedroom.

    I can’t tell you how many people just CANNOT be without their electronic leash for even the one hour that they are on my massage table. I tell them they have two options. Turn it off, or see me drop it in my turkey roaster full of hot water if it rings during their massage. As far as I am concerned, people can be un-reachable for one hour and the world is not going to end. If they are waiting for a call or talking on a phone, they darn sure are not getting the full benefit of the massage I am sweating to deliver. I do cut people a little slack if they are waiting to hear from their doctor about a prescription or something that actually IS important, but by and large I am pretty strict about cell phones in the massage room.

    Cell phones in concerts? restaurants? social events? Big, rude no-no.

  29. Wow, wow, and wow. The arrogance is astonishing. And the irony is Hollywood worthy, surely? I hope someone in the class does mention it to her!

  30. Charlotte, you are spot on yet again. *Deep yoga bow to you, sister* I was hoping the yoga instructor would have delivered a crushing put-down, which would have made everyone else feel a little bit better.

  31. Hear hear! I’m astounded that she didn’t switch off the phone and also astounded that the teacher let her take the call…

    My husband thinks nothing of twittering on his iPhone during supper, when we’re out – and I have to say it drives me (and the kids) mad! Well, madder…

  32. I share a room at the office with two women who have no idea what vibrate is all about. Worse yet, they will get up and leave the room for an hour at a time, leaving their personal mobile at their desk. Yes you guessed it, not only do they get 4 or 5 calls a day, they are rarely at their desk to pick the call up … and … they have managed to pick the most ANNOYING ringtones known to man. There is nothing like trying to have an important phone conversation with a client while in the background a mobile is blaring “La Cukaracha” at full volume.

  33. Oh, I am so with you on this point!! I admit that I do love my phone and usually have it with me, but I would NEVER consider taking it with me into the gym, lt alone a yoga class. The whole point of those activities is that it’s me-time, without outside interruptions!! I find people are becoming increasingly rude about how and when they use their mobile phones, and don’t even get me started on Twitter. I went on an outing recently with friends who tweet and I have never seen so much blatant rudeness in my life – they would literally break off in mid-sentence to tweet and not even apologise. Besides, does the world really need to know “We are eating peanuts now – very good.” “We have just left the show to go to the bar.” “Walking into the bar – nice decor.” “we are ordering wine at the bar.” I mean, we are bombarded with enough useless information every day, why add to it?? Aaarrrgh!! And the worst is the amount of pressure that I am under from fellow-bloggers to join Twitter “because you meet all the best people on there and hear all the good gossip”. Umm, no, you don’t meet them, you just sycophantically follow their verbal diarrhoea, and the last thing I need in my life is more gossip!

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