Hollande bans ministers from using phones in cabinet meetings, but is checking your Facebook updates really rude?

Listening to someone talking is actually really hard when your phone is bleeping


It would appear French cabinet meetings are now so boring that Francois Hollande has been to forced to ban ministers from taking their mobile phones into sessions, lest the lures of Candy Crush distract them from running the country.

Hollande’s spokesman didn’t suggest what politicians had been doing on their phones, whether texting lovers or attending to other matters of state. He simply said it was important to “focus on what we must do” and added that now: “Each of us will now have to talk and listen to what is said.”

A revolutionary idea indeed: it’s not just ministers who are fused to their phones.

Despite persistent rumours that politicians aren’t normal people, the obsession with prodding our devices (not a euphemism) is a popular one. Real-life companions are only offered a slice of our attention. Despite having hauled our desk-hunched haunches across town, too often the bulk of our concentration is devoted to the distracting volley of emails, texts and tweets that attack our devices as we try and talk.

The gnawing urgency we feel to respond isn’t entirely our fault.  These apps are designed to be devious. Facebook and Whatsapp come with hideous ‘seen’ and ‘read’ features, meaning your cyber correspondent knows you’ve read their message. If you don't respond immediately it makes it appear you’re wilfully ignoring them. You’re stuck between neglecting your virtual Facebook friends and ignoring the one sitting next to you. Then there’s the mariachi band of bleeps and bloops and swooshes. Facebook sends you text message updates as well as ones on 3G. Even if you’ve put your phone on silent, the whole damn device lights up when you get an update. Social media stalks you like predator, demanding your attention and shattering your calm. Meanwhile your friend’s coffee’s gone cold and her expression’s frozen.

If it’s not our fault then maybe it’s our companion’s. Our phones suggest we are witty, wonderful, intelligent individuals. People who type HAHAHAHAHHA when we make a joke, suggesting they’ve laughed REALLY LOUDLY. Lots of people ‘like’ everything we post. They even 'rofl' or roll around on the floor laughing. It's a bit of a bump when our real friends are less forthcoming. No wonder we would rather spend time with our Twitter pals. Social media provides instant gratification, giving us a nice tinkly noise for a retweet or a lovely red notification on Facebook. These little bloops and pop-ups show us we’re wanted.

Maybe our addiction to social media might be useful in throwing light on real-life relationships that aren’t working. It’s pretty telling if you find Twitter more interesting than a friend or a relative. Only this week we heard that time spent on Twitter is damaging for relationships.

Twitter and Facebook might be entertaining, but there’s no digital equivalent for someone letting you cry on their shoulder. There’s no virtual hugs (yet). Social media is different from actually being sociable. Real friends are not just ‘connections’.  If you can’t be bothered to listen to somebody because online is more interesting, maybe you shouldn’t bother meeting up in the first place. If your friend doesn’t stop instagramming their food to actually ask if you like your pasta, it’s probably time to ask for the bill. They don’t respect your time. Conversely, if you are more obsessed with a virtual someone, then you aren’t showing them respect either.

That’s why if I was French, Hollande’s phone ban would alarm me. If his ministers need their phones taken off them to pay attention, maybe they don’t deserve the privilege of running their country in the first place. And if Hollande can’t even keep his own cabinet ministers alert, he’s going to have a problem keeping the country interested. At the end of March Hollande's approval rating fell to a new low of 20 percent, the worst for a French president since 1958. It’s not just phones that are being turned off.  #oohlala.

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