Smartphone: Great Emancipator or a ‘Terrorist in Your Pocket’?


Ina Fired
All Things Digital

July 12, 2012

For all the good that smartphones can do, they can also cause us to be disconnected workaholics incapable of living in the moment.

“Somebody called the smartphone in your pocket ‘the terrorist in your pocket,’” German Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen said during a speech in Munich on Wednesday.

“You are always present,” von der Leyen told attendees of the DLDWomen event. “You are always reachable, You are always online.”

At the same time, von der Leyen said, technology is allowing workers, especially women, to better balance family life and a prominent career.

“I wouldn’t be standing here as a minister with many, many children at home if it weren’t for the Internet,” von der Leyen said, noting that when she needs to, she can “govern at home.”

The key is to make sure that one is in control of the technology, von der Leyen said.

“Use your devices, but don’t let them dominate your life, and defend your right to be offline,” she said.

Telefonica CEO Rene Schuster echoed that sentiment during an onstage interview with AllThingsD’s Ina Fried that followed von der Leyen’s talk.

Schuster said the solution lies with individuals making smart trade-offs rather than company policies, such as one proposed at Volkswagen that unilaterally shuts off email after a certain time.

“That’s kind of Big Brother telling you when to do something,” Schuster said. “I would rather empower people. I would rather say, it’s actually your choice.”

Schuster said he wants to allow workers to be in control, but also to send a message that one need not always be connected.

“You are in control,” Schuster said. “It’s okay to turn things off.”

For his own part, Schuster has an interesting technique for handling the flood of email he gets while travelling.

“I delete them all,” Schuster said. “What happens is the really important ones write me again.”


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