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An end solution

The answer to life, the universe and everything is… your mobile phone

This column has rather little to do with business or CEOs. In fact, it has nothing to do with either. But anyone, CEO or not, with some connection to teenagers, no matter how vague, will relate. Especially considering these teens are our future employees and employers.

I was cooking dinner the other night, cooking up a storm in fact, for the 19-year-old, a beautiful emerging young woman, still offering glimpses of the inner child mind you, but regularly astounding me with her sophistication and outlook on life. At times, she leaves me breathless with her wisdom and insight; at others, albeit briefly, I’m left wondering where I went wrong.

Anyway, as is customary after the meal is prepared, I opened the kitchen door – closed earlier to keep in the heat – to shout upstairs that dinner was ready. As is customary, she shouted back. I closed the door.

Five minutes later, with still no sight of her, I shouted out again. A response was shouted back. I closed the door, again.

Minutes later she burst through that door, blustering and indignant.

“Why didn’t you answer your phone?”


This was one of those sliding door moments when you know that what you’re hearing doesn’t make sense so, to compensate, a logical option springs to mind, no matter how fanciful.

Had I taken my phone upstairs and had it been ringing out of earshot?

No. The phone was there, just to my right, charging. On silent.

“I’ve been trying to ring you!”

My brain failed. It just doesn’t work that fast. Confusion spread through my head, its tentacles clawing for any modicum of sense, because her statement left only one other option,se which didn’t make sense at all.

Why would she call me when she was upstairs and I was downstairs?

But a glance at my phone, confirmed four missed calls. From my daughter. The one who who’d been upstairs. The one I’d just been shouting at to come downstairs. The one who’d shouted back.

Nothing, absolutely nothing, prepared for me for her answer.

“I was on the toilet!”

Er, yes?

“And I ran out of toilet paper!” she fumed. “And I was shouting at you to get some for me.”

Of course, she was.

Here I was, thinking she was just acknowledging the call for dinner when, in reality, she was stranded on the loo, without toilet paper, shouting at me to get some while I kept shutting the door on her cry for help.

Very little renders me speechless, but I was struck dumb. First with shock, then by the absurdity of it all, particularly when I realised how indignant she was because I hadn’t rectified her problem. (The fact that her mobile phone went into the bathroom with her in the first place is a whole other column.)

Now, considering that 75% of the world’s population (that’s around four billion people) don’t use toilet paper, nor ring their mums to deliver it, I do acknowledge this is a First World problem.

But I guess that’s my point.

Okay, so my teen attempted to solve her problem the best and most efficient way she knew, by ringing mum. And clearly, in the end, she’d resolved it because she eventually appeared for dinner. While I had little desire to discover how she’d coped, I did wonder about the resilience of this modern generation.

It brought to mind recent comments from teachers concerned that mobile phones are disabling school children from problem solving because as soon as they become anxious about an issue, they immediately text their parents to fix it, or at least make them feel better. Their parents immediately respond with a solution. Problem solved. Just not by the kids. Basic life skills are left unlearned.

Remember when we missed the bus and the local pay phone was out of order? We had to walk or wait. Or when we forgot our lunch, our train pass, or homework? We had to suck it up, figure out a way to be creative, which was enormously challenging, particularly when it came to explaining why we didn’t have the homework. The dog has a lot to answer for.

Just this week, secondary schools in the UK introduced strict bans on mobile phones with pupils aged up to 16 forced to lock them away for the day. If parents needed to contact their children they could do it through their schools. Yep, just like ours did.

The new rules are a reaction to evidence that mobile-free students are more sociable, alert and active. No surprises there. Nor are there any real surprises from a study reported in the Harvard Business Review, which found concentration is disrupted even by the presence of a phone that’s switched off.

Apparently, it’s a fundamental human trait to automatically pay attention to things that are habitually relevant to us.

“The mere presence of our smartphones is like the sound of our names – they are constantly calling to us, exerting a gravitational pull on our attention,” the researchers say.

Unless, of course, you’re cooking dinner and your daughter has run out of toilet paper. That’s when you shut the door on the problem and let her figure out the solution herself.

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