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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 May, 2004, 09:48 GMT 10:48 UK
Communication overload?
There must be people out there spending so much time phoning, e-mailing and texting their friends and family they barely have time to see them in the flesh.

Figures published this week claim people are spending more time communicating by these methods than watching TV.

Mobile phone keypad
How much time does your thumb spend on this button?

They apparently spend a staggering three hours and 45 minutes a day talking via landlines and mobile phones, texting and e-mailing.

Those with a job, partner and kids obviously aren't busy enough because they tended to spend an additional 25 minutes a day keeping in touch, said the report, commissioned by British Gas.

But, if true, is it good news for people's relationships? As contact becomes easier, people might be keeping in touch more, but is the contact less meaningful.

In a quick straw poll of the office not one person reckoned they spent anywhere near this amount of time catching up with people "electronically".

Phonecalls were generally restricted to talking to people over long distances, and a quick bell to make arrangements to meet up with those closer by.

Landline calls: 88 minutes
Mobile calls: 62 minutes
E-mailing: 53 minutes
Texting: 22 minutes

Admittedly more and more texting and e-mailing is done, but does it really account for 75 minutes of our time every day? Surely even the most prolific keep-in-touchers don't have time to clock up all those hours outside work time.

Market researchers for the survey didn't ask people where they were phoning and e-mailing from, but given the times they claim can't we assume most of this personal contact is being made from the workplace?

Either that or there's more hours in the day than previously thought.

'We're crazy'

Professor of organisational psychology and health, Cary Cooper, lays the blame for any increase in electronic communication squarely on the shoulders of employers.

E-mailing from home computer
Why doesn't he go out and do something less boring instead?

"When we see people face to face we really invest in the relationship. But it's becoming so simple to keep in touch in other ways, why make the time?"

"We can partly blame the employers. We have the longest working hours in Europe. Employees start to feel that if they are going to be kept at work from 7 'til 7 and still maintain contact with their family and friends, they're going to do it in their bosses' time."

"If employers didn't foster this long hours culture maybe we'd have more time and not have to do it at work. Why don't they just let people go so they can spend time with their loved ones?"

But despite all this time supposedly spent keeping up with people, one in five of the 1,105 interviewed said they didn't know what was going on in their loved ones' lives or how they were feeling.

Does new technology mean our communication methods are more about quantity than quality? Fears over conversational skills dying off as technology advances have been much discussed since the advent of mobile phones and e-mail.

Cary Cooper
Cary Cooper: Blame the bosses
"New technologies are great," says Prof Cooper, who works from Lancaster University Management School.

"But e-mails and texting are too distant. The phone is not perfect either but at least when you are talking to someone you can clarify what they are saying and pick up non-verbal messages."

"These things are great for keeping in touch with people far away, but on the whole we have accepted new technology too much.

"I think we're crazy."


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