The Serenity Prayer, as it is known, has been adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous and can be a comfort to anyone coping with life's many challenges. For example, we think of it when we're dealing with cell phone usage by our health club members.
Like other club managers attempting to control this pesky issue at facilities all over the world, we're losing the fight, and we're about ready to throw in the towel. Part of our frustration is caused by the absolute obliviousness of so many of our members. The other part of our frustration is that today's reality makes containing cell phone use all but impossible.
To be sure, we have all of the right policies in place. They include no cell phones on the workout floor and in locker rooms, and we ask that all usage be restricted to the lobby areas outside. We've got signs up too, identifying "No Cell Phone" zones throughout our clubs. But it's all pretty much a waste of time and effort.
Trouble With Signs
A big part of the problem is the definition of "cell phone usage." We realized while writing this that we're just as bad as our members. Every doctor and dentist in the world has signs in their waiting areas that say "No Cell Phones," yet we think nothing of taking out our phones to read email, send text messages or browse the web. We assume that the concern in a doctor's office would be the disruption caused by patients talking on their phones. After all, what harm can be done by quietly reading or pecking away on a virtual keyboard?
None, we hope. But we've never asked our doctors. Maybe they think we're as bad as some of our members. After all, the sign says "No Cell Phones." Instead, should the signs say "No talking on your cell phone, but everything else is okay?"
If we tried posting such specific signs at our clubs, we'd drive everyone crazy. Can you imagine? In the weight room: Cell phones are okay for texting, emailing and listening to music with a headset, but no talking. Oh, no photos or videos either.
In the cardio room: Don't use your phone for talking, email or texting. You'll annoy people if you talk, and if you are reading and responding to email or texts, you might trip on your treadmill and get hurt. Music with headphones is okay. Oh, yeah, also no photos or videos.
In the locker rooms: REALLY no photos or videos. Why? Think "naked people," you dope. Texting, emailing and browsing the web are okay. But no, you can't blast music while you shower. Oh, and no talking. We know it's just the locker room, but it's still annoying to other members.
In classes: Are you kidding? Shut it off. All the way off. Not just silent mode. If you want to be The Worst Person in the World like that employee at Facebook who got a yoga instructor fired because she was so self-absorbed that she had to type on her phone during a yoga class - a yoga class! - then go ahead, make our day. Make a call. Answer a call. Start reading and responding to text messages. We'll terminate your membership because you don't belong in decent society.
In the pool: Please re-read the part of your contract that says we are not responsible for your personal items, then bring your phone into the pool area. We dare you.
In the lobby area outside of our daycare room: Yes, we know this is an appropriate place to use your phone any way you'd like. But please, no photos of your little angels through the windows of the daycare room. We don't want other parents thinking we have a pedophile in our midst.
Those signs would make everything clear as day, wouldn't they? A different policy for every few hundred square feet of space. It's not our fault, after all. We're blaming Steve Jobs. And now Samsung is going to start calling its phones "life companions." That will help. Asking someone to do without their phone would be like asking them to give up breathing. Heck, for so many of our members, it's already like that.
People must think that being annoying on their phones is something other people do. They just don't see it in themselves. The real estate agent who was barking into her phone while on the treadmill at lunchtime? You'd have thought our staff person had a second head growing out of his shoulder when he asked her to hang up or move to the lobby. Her response was basically, "Me? Little ol' me? I'm not bothering anyone, and I am not giving up my workout time. Oh, and this is a private conversation so please remove yourself."
And that's a point that violators of our policy fail to understand. These most definitely are not private conversations. If they were, we wouldn't be worried about them because we'd have no knowledge of them. The reason we know about them is because they're actually very public conversations. We can hear the deal you're making. We can hear that your husband has made you furious. We can hear that you're cheating on said husband. We can hear that your kid is in rehab again. We can hear it all because - wait for it- YOU'RE SHOUTING IT ALL INTO YOUR PHONE.
People must be unaware of this reality, because many of our members also seem to believer that our lobby is somehow private - otherwise they would never speak with such colorful language. Yet f-bombs, bull-you-know-whats and rhymes-with-hitch are common among our members freed from the shackles of no-cell-phone areas.
Here's another sign we could post in our lobby: Just because you can talk on your phone in our lobby doesn't mean that we can't hear you. Trust us, we'd rather not be able to, but we can and we do.
So, we try to find serenity in accepting something we cannot change. We'll keep trying to change it - "I'm sorry, sir, could you please take your conversation off the workout floor," and "Oh, I'm sorry, can you please put your phone away in the locker room? We worry about privacy for our members," - but the truth is, the horse has left the barn and isn't coming back. Phones are no longer just phones. Nobody is going to give up his or her "life companion" without a fight, and the fight just isn't worth it to us.
We don't want to lose members over this, and we think our more well-behaved and reasonable members will help us police the most egregious offenders.
But just in case, we'll keep saying the Serenity Prayer.
Rob Bishop and Barry Klein are owners of Elevations Health Club in Scotrun, Pa. They also spoke at the 2012 iClubs Conference.