Over the last few months, I’ve seen more and more tweeps and geeks talk about handing back their iPhones because they find themselves obsessed over them while waiting in line at the stores or cornered in family gatherings. Sometimes it’s simply the overwhelming pressure to chase unread badges or the fear of not answering a call in a meeting or after hours and suddenly being faced with having to take over some responsibility 8 hours earlier than scheduled. While I agree that there are some real pressures added by owning a smartphone, I have to call foul on anyone who takes extreme measures to deal with life’s craziness. To quote Ferris Bueller:
Not that I condone fascism, or any -ism for that matter. -Ism’s in my opinion are not good. A person should not believe in an -ism, he should believe in himself. I quote John Lennon, “I don’t believe in Beatles, I just believe in me.” Good point there. After all, he was the walrus. I could be the walrus. I’d still have to bum rides off people.
But seriously, I have been working in IT for 20 years now and I don’t think there has ever been a time where I have ever had so many streams of information and miscommunication coming to me at once in all of that time. Think about how you gathered information and carried out your converstions ten years ago; now consider that all if not most of this is now coming at you on the smallish phone that your carry that with you at all times accessing the internet and your very own personal big data dump. That is a lot of stuff to keep in the back of mind, not to mention a lot of red badges to clog up a retina display. There is enough information in there to keep any normal sane human being up all night worrying himself into an ulcer.
Now here is the secret that no one has told you, but that the “disconnected crowd” are touting as the holy grail of salvation: it will all be there in an hour, after lunch, when you get home from your commute, tomorrow, or even Monday morning. Now the big difference with this crowd and the rest of us that by handing in their smart devices they can claim ignorance and peace because some icon is not flashing at them every time the check the time or lookup the recipe for Jamie Oliver’s Creamy Leek Pie. To a certain degree this just means that they are offsetting their stress for the next elevator ride with a colleague who asks if they’ve seen Jim’s email. The rest of us see the very same badges and either a) Panic because someone has just interrupted your plan to escape and take care of yourself or something personal or b) Grab a quick glance and decide to either act if it’s less than two minutes or file it for another time or worst of all c) Pick up and respond and get drawn into something that is probably just being pushed along by some one else trying to carve out some personal time.
Here is the real kicker. That badge is just a badge and it can grow in numbers all it wants, before that badge popped onto your screen, you had planned to do something. I have no idea what that was, but it was important enough for you to set some time aside to do it. So go ahead and take care of that since you had already booked yourself that time. For example, if you have to the take the train every night at 5PM because this is the last train to your neighbourhood for another 4 hours, would you stay glued to your workstation or on the office line rather than simply say: “I’m sorry I have to catch a train, can we talk about this tomorrow?” Of course not, however you will quite easily reach for your phone at your kids hockey game sometimes despite the fact that they’re in the middle of a game tying breakaway. I know this because I’ve seen it from the other side of the ice on the coaches bench. This is the kind of craziness that we put ourselves through every time we reach for our phones like pavlovian dogs when the little bell chimes or your upper thigh buzzes. The reason we do this is that it’s always easier to have a good excuse for not doing something than setting expectations of availability during our personal time. Last time I check most iPhones still go to voice mail even when you don’t check the Caller ID. The kid is on a Break Away… I’ve been playing hockey as long as I have been walking and never have I been on a game tying break-away… Don’t miss stuff like this.
There is a good reason why they call it a work/life balance. You have to take the good with the bad and know when to set the do not disturb mode to on, provided that it’s working that week. I am not claiming to have mastered GTD or personal stress-free ZEN mode, but I have made peace with myself and my bosses that I will remain available for all requests during reasonable office hours unless otherwise pre-determined due to a specific deliverable or urgency at work. In other words, I get my work done during office hours and unless something hits the fan, I am not expected to be on call after hours. And with almost two years into my current job, this has been acceptable for everyone and none of my projects have suffered from my coaching soccer and ringette or commuting to work by bike. Is this the result of setting the expectation early on or simply being able to make good judgement calls on when to go above and beyond, I could not tell you. But I have never felt better in a job than I do today and my health is at peak levels I have not seen in 20 years. Buy supplements anti anxiety on Amazon.com.
So what about all the personal distractions that my iPhone offers me during all the other times? Well I tend to welcome those without letting them getting in the way of the life I am living in the meat space. If I’m out with the Dads or the family, I don’t feel the need to live tweet it unless somebody does something that truly warrants the attention or that we need to share something with someone who is not present, but to be quite frank I’m usually laughing to hard to pull out the phone. These days, if I’m out with friends, everyone I would usually Tweet or SMS to are there with me. Sure I’ll grab the phone and swipe up to take picture or capture video and I’ll look stuff up to settle bar talk or use Yelp & Foursquare to pick the next stop, even use this or that app to buy coffee, check prices, or txt someone who might be running late. However, this IS the main reason that I bought this thing in the first place, before the iPhone I’d be calling Mononque or my Wife from Canadian Tire and Best Buy to run price checks.
Since I first used a Palm Treo, then a BlackBerry and now my second iPhone, I like to think that I have gained enough self-discipline to determine whether or not I need to use my iPhone’s connectivity in public or during family and friends time. I’ll be damned if I’d go without my phone’s power and functions simply because it beeps at me every once in a while. This thing has replaced my phone, PDA, point and shoot, map book, newspaper and iPod all in the space of 5 short years. Why the hell would I ever go back to wearing a utility belt or carrying a man purse just so I can have what I need on me?
I truly hope that disconnectors like Stephen Hackett do learn something from their experiments but honestly this just seems like a lot of useless pain and frustration that could have been sorted out with a few good frank discussions and a little self control. Granted this peice might get me banned from the 512 Pixels podcast for life but I trust that Stephen can see the value of a good counter argument, even if it is from a crazy old Canuck in the middle of the The Great White North.