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Man And Machine – Who Is In Control?

“My fear is that we live in a culture of sound bytes that do not enrich our interpersonal skills or emotional intelligence. Digital shortcuts are replacing having a meaningful conversation. Can looking at a screen replace looking into someone’s eyes?” writes Dr. John Passante in his latest guest commentary.


John Passante is a broad-based senior executive with over 30 years of extensive organizational development and senior human resource experience with progressive corporations involved in multiple locations, both domestic and international.

Millennials Workforce Workers - StockPermit me to turn the clock back for a moment, and recall how business and relationships were nurtured before the advent smart phones. Early in my career, companies would frequently utilize telegrams to communicate with customers to remote locations. Faxes also were a very useful source to transmit documents.

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Even today, some firms use faxes to send sensitive information that could be intercepted (hacked) if emails are not properly encrypted. It also is the case that faxes are beneficial to send to countries that only recognize signatures on faxes.

Writing a letter is an effective way to communicate. Given the pace of life in 2016, the U.S mail service offers us the opportunity to send letters by air or sea. I worry that writing a letter may be a dying art. Yet, I still feel that sending a card or a letter is a sincere way to show your appreciation and gratitude – old school perhaps.


Communication is not just about words. It is about sharing feelings and emotions. Can an emoji replace the warmth of a smile? To me, sending a letter shows you really care.

My fear is that we live in a culture of sound bytes that do not enrich our interpersonal skills or emotional intelligence. Digital shortcuts are replacing having a meaningful conversation. Can looking at a screen replace looking into someone’s eyes?

What about clearly seeing someone’s facial expressions or the magic of a pat on the back or a hug. We do not pick up on voice inflections or body language while looking at a screen.


However, technology is here to stay, which begs the question: Who is in control – you or your smartphone?

Reduced face time with a customer can result in lost sales or miscommunications. Video conferencing makes it possible to “meet” with customers or employees. Although, at times it can be difficult to assess different points of view during the call.

The sad truth is, the mere presence of a smartphone in a meeting or a face-to-face conversation is a gross distraction. When the cell phone rings and is answered, when we are involved in dialogue, we feel frustrated and feel as though the call is more important than we are. We may all suffer from the fear of being without phones. (It even has an official name: Nomophobia)


Our joint challenge is to balance technology, while being sensitive to human interaction. There are more than a billion smartphone users today. Indeed, they have improved, impacted and changed our lives. The question to confront is: Have they taken over our lives?

When we engage in a face-to-face conversation, we build relationships and bridges of trust. By listening we see a person’s face and eyes and can hear their hearts. We all thrive for human contact. It is food for the soul .

Do we all suffer a phone addiction? Ask yourself:

  • Can we eat a meal without looking at our smartphone?
  • Do we watch T.V. with our family and check our smart phone?
  • Do we look at our phone when we wake up during the night?
  • Do we check text messages while driving?
  • Do we walk across busy streets while looking at the screen on our smart phones?

Who is in control?


Our universal challenge is to establish limits, to utilize the “off button” and turn off the phone when we are sleeping and have a “phones off” zone in your home in the dining room, family room and the bed room. Learn to turn off the phone, when spending face time with customers. (Common sense, I know.)

Leave the phone in the car, while attending a business function or playing with your children. (Special moments)

I admit that the benefits of smartphones are compelling. They allow us to get news updates, videos, twitter feeds and emails 24-7! The trick is to NOT allow technology to negatively impact your work and family time. We have all experienced the frequent interruptions and distractions caused by our “constant companion” … our smartphones.


This can rob us from think free time to think, reflect or have time with our thoughts. We all need to strive to manage our smartphones. We are free not to answer it when it rings. To, yes, turn it off when we are in a conversation. Try it. You will like it.

Allow yourself “PTO” ­– Personal Time Off (no phone).

We are in this together. If you wish to communicate with me, call me. I will either answer or call you back. Promise.

Machines are incredible! But so are human beings. Human beings have brains, hearts and souls and show emotions. How cool is that?

Let us join forces and commit to more vulnerable human interaction. And to become the true masters of our smartphones, and learn to depend on each other and reconnect as human beings.