Saturday, October 31, 2009

Crackberry redux

Long, long ago – around 2005 or 2006, I think – it came to pass that a significant number of my friends and colleagues had suddenly acquired Blackberry devices. Most kept them in a pocket, a purse or a briefcase, and would refer to them every now and then…between meetings, for example, or while waiting to board a plane at the airport. There were others who became instantly hooked, personifying the phenomenon that became known as “crackberry addict”. I recall joking with one colleague that he probably took it to the bathroom with him – the sheepish look told me that he actually did.

Now there are Blackberries, iPhones, Palms (again) and a whole host of PDAs or handheld computers, and the word “crackberry” has vanished from our lexicon. But brand proliferation is not the reason the word is no longer in fashion…it’s because we’re ALL doing it.

In my line of work, I often do presentations for large groups of people. I used to gauge the audience response by watching their faces. Today, I present to the tops of heads. Their eyes are on their Blackberries, held discretely on their laps.

We talk on the phone and text at the same time. We hurtle down the interstate, checking our email. We tell our dinner partners, “I just need to take this call real quick.” Car horns blast at us in the middle of the intersection…while we were typing, the light changed.

Boundaries have vanished. We text in church, from our vacations, from the boardroom and the classroom. We check our email on dates, at the beach, in the bathroom. A few weeks ago, I saw a man checking his Blackberry while riding a bicycle – at full speed.

We just can’t seem to stop.

Remember the way it used to be? In a previous work life, I managed crises at a large, multinational corporation. Over those years, I handled hostage situations, employee murders, product tampering that made national news…true emergencies. As those occurred, I got calls at home. If I was on a beach in the Caribbean, someone else got the call. It worked pretty well, as archaic as that sounds. But today, we can be instantly connected, and in many, many ways, that’s a wonderful thing. Especially in a true emergency.

Problem is, most of all the instant communication that occurs today is nothing at all like an emergency. It’s not even urgent. Hell, it’s not even important. “I’d like an answer right now” does not constitute emergency, urgency, or import. But we have talked ourselves into believing that accessibility – all day, all night, all year – is practically a sign of character. A year or so ago, a colleague was in the hospital, in the process of giving birth. She was actually responding to email from the labor room. While most of us were horrified at her inability to draw the line, I will tell you that there were those in our office who said, “Wow, now that’s real dedication.”

We live our lives in shades of gray…but THAT, my friends, is just wrong.

Please don’t misunderstand me: I don’t long for the days when there were no cell phones and handheld computers. I love them. I do not miss searching for a pay phone, or worrying where my kids were, or racing back to the office to pull an important document off my computer. Good riddance to all of that.

But can’t we agree on the boundary thing?

My friend, Bill, is the CMO of another large, multinational corporation. He’s a very, very important guy, and he’s my Blackberry hero. He does not bring his Blackberry on vacation (or if he does, he’s just peeking and not responding). He uses that time to recharge his OWN batteries, which in the long run, is better for both him and the people with whom he works. When I have dinner with Bill, his Blackberry is nowhere in sight. If I send him a message while he’s in a meeting, I’ll be sure to hear back from him…when the meeting is over.

And you know what? That large, multinational corporation gets along just fine.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Kim...good to see you writing again. I'm with you 100% on this one. I always get a laugh when my kids come and tell me my cellphone is ringing somewhere in the house. When I don't move to get it they ask "Aren't you going to answer it?". When I say no, they ask why and I reply, "Because I don't want to talk to anyone right now." They have a hard time understanding this concept. I understand that the younger generations like to multi-task which is fine, but you need to have some boundaries. We enforce a "no phone" rule during meal time and family functions like birthdays, holidays, etc. It works fine although the kids do begin to squirm after a few minutes. Nice to hear from you1
    Tim Genck