Saturday, July 28, 2007


I once attended a concert with a few friends. One of those friends spent a great deal of time texting and emailing with his crackberry. Oh, he'd pause in order to not seem rude and speak with me, but as soon as the conversation lulled, as it did often because he didn't seem to want to talk about anything himself, he was back staring at his Blackberry device. It was as if the device and it's communications were more real than the person standing next to him. I found the incident to be rude. Luckily I have thick skin and didn't take it personally.

My friend is not the only one with a device fetish that becomes addiction. I once met a man who deplored that he had to carry 2 cell phones. One phone was for friends while the other one was for work. If he wasn't answering one, then he was answering the other. He told me that there wasn't a moment of peace in his life. I suggested that he turn them off for an entire weekend - both of them. No one needs to be that wired and, let's face it, most of the communications are inane crap. The man's face went pale at the thought (literally!) and he stared at me with a mixture of horror and disbelief. "But, I can't," he said. "I need to be available to make decisions."

"Listen," I told him "I'll bet your employees are better than you think. If they can't contact you, then they'll begin to make decisions on their own. If they make the wrong ones and that hurts your business badly, then you need new employees in management positions. Otherwise you're just fostering a culture of dependency that is as unhealthy for them as it is yourself. You need employees to make decisions and good ones. They need it to build self confidence and to grow. It'll keep them in their jobs longer and over time their decisions will get better, giving you more time to relax and take care of the really important things."

"But I can't get away from family and friends. They always need something."

"No, they don't. Before cell phones existed people got along fine picking up the phone and calling home. Or, they'd come to your house. Or they'd write. If you weren't home when they called, then they'd call back later. Or, they'd leave a message. There was a time when the answering machine was a liberating and useful tool. It allowed us to not only get messages when we weren't around, but it also allowed us to screen calls for people we don't want to talk to. You've lost that ability to screen calls. You think you need to be wired all of the time. You don't. And life goes on without it. Turn them off for a weekend. Things will be fine. Then try taking a vacation with the family and turn them off for a week. Life goes on. You'll see."

He wanted to take my advice. I could see that the reasoning was what he wanted to believe and hear. He paused and seriously considered it for a few seconds, but then decided it was easier to stick with the old habits - no matter how miserable it made him. "Naw, I can't do it. They need me."

I think both examples offer different rationalizations as to why people are addicted to the devices. In my friend's case, I think he finds a completion or fulfillment by being so connected. It allows him to remove himself from the drudgery of his life and to connect with friends all over the globe. The irony being that when he and I were out together we were at a concert and sharing drinks, which also took him out of the drudgery of his everyday life. In the second instance, the man said it all at the end when he said, "They need me." That's what these things are doing for him - fulfilling a desperate desire to feel needed. He's afraid to let go in the same way my mother was when I was a teen and later. He needs to be needed and the cell phones provide him with a method of fulfilling that need.

Another reason people become addicted to Blackberries, cell phones, and similar devices - though they wouldn't admit it - is pure narcissism. Who hasn't seen the person, usually younger, standing in line at a checkout counter in a retail store chatting away on the phone? I've heard advice to the love lorn, intimate details of a sex life, crappy banter about the alleged emotional trespasses of one person or another (some terrific back stabbing as well - worthy of Springer), and more. It's extremely disrespectful and rude to the clerk who is attempting to assist the customer as well as to the other people standing in line. Indeed, there is a retail backlash bubbling up. I've seen clerks stop everything and wait until the person hangs up. I've seen signs posted. I've seen clerks wait on the next person in line rather than wait on the talker. Sometimes a person needs to take a call (an emergency situation, for instance), but in that case the customer can voluntarily step out of the line. Virtually no case involves that sort of thing, though, and clerks know it and are taking ways small and large to stop it.

In my own case, I look at people rather unsympathetically when they tell me that "I had to take that call, sorry." My usual reply (if I bother at all - it depends upon my mood and how often I've had it happen that day) is something along the lines of "Maybe you should look into getting a voicemail account? Mine works wonders." Just yesterday, a customer who answered his phone said, "Dude, where're you at?" I was bagging his booze for him, looking away, and I replied, "Did you go blind? I'm right here in front of you." He looked at me completely befuddled, then he thought about it and got it and apologized. He was back in the store 5 minutes later with his buddy, helping him make a purchase. He apologized again.

*Sigh* The whole thing is a bit depressing. I don't want to sound like an old curmudgeon, but the loss of manners when it comes to devices is just amazing. People are being owned by the technology rather than treating it like a tool that you pull out and use at appropriate moments. Word is getting out slowly. There are now commercials before films about turning off cell phones. I've seen concerts stopped after a cell phone rings and the user berated for it. Still, addicts don't get it because they are caught up in themselves. It's a trick of the mind and the body supplies the proper hormones that keep the addiction flowing. It feeds on itself in an ugly loop.

And if that weren't depressing enough, along comes this piece from The Guardian. Snippet:

They're doing it in bed, in the bath and in the back of cars. America's CrackBerry addiction has got worse.

A survey by AOL and Opinion Research of 4,025 Americans over the age of 13 found that almost six out of 10 used their mobile email gadgets in bed. Four out of 10 said they kept them nearby as they slept so they could hear incoming mail. A similar proportion said they had replied to emails in the middle of the night. A further 37% responded to emails when they were driving.

But the figure that will cause most alarm in this God-fearing country is that 12% admitted to sneaking a look at their BlackBerrys while sitting in a church or synagogue.

In bed?!!? OK, folks, develop the first vibrator with texting capabilities and email notification for the true multitasking addicts!!! It's a money maker I tell ya. People will consider it truly useful if during the email notification they get an extra buzz from the vibrator. It will feed both the sexual satisfaction as well as the addiction for messaging more people all of the time. A similar device can be made for men, I'm sure. The post coital emails will no doubt, be very satisfying indeed.

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