Ben Stein: Shut your cell phones and get to work!

You say you can't live without it? Wrong number, says our Ben Stein...

Here is a distressing truth:

The rate of growth of productivity in the United States has been rising much more slowly in the period from 1991 to 2011 than in the 20 years after World War II. That is, output per worker is rising, but much more slowly than it used to be.

Why that is has been the subject of much debate among economists. Is it the aging of the labor force? Movement of manufacturing to China?

No one knows for sure, but I have a suggestion. Maybe no one is getting any work done because we're all talking on our cell phones and playing with gadgets online and texting each other.

There is some data on this: In 1991 cell phone use in the U.S.A. was minimal. By 2010, Americans were spending roughly six billion minutes a day - or maybe six QUAJILLION minutes a day - on cell phone talk. That's roughly 20 minutes per day per American.

As we know, a lot of Americans talk on their cells a heck of a lot more than that (especially if they're working in the cubicle next to you). When was the last time you saw any appreciable number of young people on the street NOT talking on their cell phones? When was the last time you were on an airplane and your fellow passengers were NOT texting? How many people do you know who can NEVER play games on the Internet on their computers?

Of course our productivity has suffered. Who is left to do any work at all while all the rest of us - and I'm far from immune - are gabbing on the cells or texting all day? We're using up our time, and other people's time.

I'm positive that the Internet and cell phones must have some good effects on work. It's just that so few people are working at all nowadays. Instead we're all talking to each other.

And what are you talking about? Lord knows, but somehow we used to get along fine without all that chatter.

It's probably too late to put the genie back in the bottle, but maybe, just maybe some of us will wake up and go to work instead of spending a day talking about how much we ate that day or how much we hate our bosses. If you want to figure out a way to get more done at work, if we as a nation want to get more done, there's a simple answer: Turn off the phone and get to work.

Try it. You might like it. And then call me or text me about it.