By Jeff Stern

One of the weirdest sights to me is a group of people sitting at a table together in a restaurant, each of them on their phones. Instead of interacting with each other in person, they’re interacting with people online.

It used to be only real estate agents and other businesspeople who would be plinking on their devices, handling business details in social settings. Now it’s everyone.

The result?

Well, I think the long-term results remain to be seen, but we’re already seeing some of the first effects. Already our society is changing to one that is less social. We’re less willing to get up from our couch or leave our houses to meet with someone in person and prefer to connect with people online and it’s slowly removing our societal ability to interact in person.

People are more uncomfortable with eye contact. Or don’t know how to successfully navigate an in-person interview. People don’t know how to sit in a waiting room anymore, and instantly pull out their phones to pacify their discomfort with silence or real-life humans whose gaze they might accidentally meet.

Any societal change affects business and we’re certainly seeing changes already.

I used to go down to my accountant’s office to sign tax documents and pick up my papers after filing. Now it’s all electronic. Once my annual return is done, my documents are in a secure “bucket” where he can find it and send it in digitally to CRA and provide me with my copy. There’s no need to go to his office anymore.

Home insurance has changed too. We can phone in and email to change our insurance, with much less need to go in at all.

These changes have their convenience, but convenience also has its price. Case in point: As I was helping my mom prepare to move, I was reviewing her home insurance policy. There, I discovered she has been overpaying on her policy, which was originally taken out in 1983. She’d been insured against flood damage when she lived on the ground floor. When she moved to the upper floors quite some time ago, no one changed the insurance policy. No one looked too closely at it on the insurer’s end, so she had been paying a premium, letting thousands of dollars fly out the window, never to be seen again.

This is why I insist on face-to-face at least at some point during our arrangement, especially in the beginning when I’m working with a new client.  I also make a point to meet in person with the other agent in the transaction. Meeting in person can help avoid all kinds of miscommunications and mistakes and allows the agent (who carries the heavy end of responsibility during the transaction) to get acquainted in a way that phone and electronic conversations simply don’t allow.

Sure, there are times when this isn’t possible – overseas or out-of-the-country or province situations for example – but even then we can meet through online meetings with our webcams.

We’re on our phones and other devices way too much. We all admit it. Yet, we all still struggle to get off of them. Some call it an addiction. I don’t think it is, necessarily. I think it’s more about needing to be more aware of the reasons we’re doing what we’re doing.

If you’ve seen my Facebook feed, you know I adore and share cat memes a lot. I can get just as carried away chuckling and scrolling those things as anyone else.

But I don’t often accidentally lose an hour or two slipping into social media, because I’ve tried to be intentional about it. If I’m scrolling cat memes, it’s because I’m intentionally setting aside that time to scroll for leisure and enjoyment.

If I’m waiting for a client, however, and they’re 15 minutes late, I don’t “just quickly check” social media, because I know what a rabbit hole it is.

Someone asked me this week how I avoid getting caught in that internet abyss, how I avoid being the guy with his head bent to his phone in every waiting room chair, commute or coffee shop. My answer was that I try to stay aware of my goals and intentions in each moment and then filter my actions through that.

If I’m in leisure mode, I do leisure scrolling. If I’m in work mode, I leave social media alone. In fact, I won’t even check my social media, not a single glance at my phone. Not even if it dings a notification. And especially if I’m mid-meeting with a client.

I’m not perfect at it, of course, but that’s my basic filter. And it’s helped me immensely.

What about you? How do you strive for balance between tech and real life?

Jeff Stern, a 27-year real estate veteran with Re/Max Performance Realty in Winnipeg, received the 2017 CMHC/MREA Distinguished Realtor Award. He is an instructor for the Provincial Real Estate Licensing program, a member of the Education Committee and sits on the Professional Standards Investigation and Hearing Committee at MREA. He gives back to the community as chair of the MREA Shelter Foundation and writes stimulating and enlightening articles on his blog. The opinions expressed are those of Jeff Stern and not the Manitoba Real Estate Association.


  1. Thank you. I always try to meet all the people in a transaction. Furthermore, when I am with one client, I shut off my phone because I don’t want them to think others are more important than they are. That goes for presentations, showings, listing appointments etc. So far there has nothing ever been important enough that couldn’t have waited for an hour.

    • Sabine, what a great idea, turning your phone off while with a client. If that doesn’t scream to your client “you’re my priority” I don’t know what does. Thanks for your input.

  2. Thanks for reading and commenting on this Adam. Human interaction is so critical. Technology is wonderful and offers us ways to not only connect and even reconnect with old friends but nothing replaces live, human to human contact. We can “assume” body language via electronic means but it is easily misinterpreted whereas the voice inflection and physical actions are how we are innately responsive. Many a friendship and business relationship fall victim to such misunderstandings.

  3. This is a really good article and very timely Jeff. Thank you for the reminder that we are created for real human interaction.

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