January 25, 2013
I've just come back from an extended time away from New York and my desk, and re-entry is proving tricky. I know I'll get over it in a day or two, but there's always that time when you come back from having had an interesting experience - in my case a volunteer trip to Kenya - when real life can seem a bit meaningless and dull (or is it just me?). One thing I barely did while in Kenya - and did not miss - was check my email. I was at first frustrated that the promised wireless access at the very modest hotel we were staying at did not transpire. But after that I settled into no-checking mode and felt totally and delightfully free. I wasn't one of the people from our team gathered eagerly around the one functional internet cafe in town at the end of each day, hoping to tap into a wireless network on my phone or endure the painstakingly slow connectivity speed inside (see below).
I had told the people close to me that I might not have internet access and I knew they could text me or call in an emergency; I texted a bit myself. I had set up an out-of-office reply for my email account and I officially relaxed. But I felt my indifference was a sign of me being from the pre-internet era. To me, it felt wonderful to be away from the daily tyranny of email, Facebook and Twitter, whereas to many of the 20-somethings on the trip, those things, particularly Facebook, are their daily bread. When I'm in the usual swing of things, all the connectivity is fine, just a (big) part of working life that I often enjoy. But when you're away from it all for a while you remember (if you're over a certain age) what the pre-internet era felt like and how relaxing it was by comparison, how you were actually able to *think* for more than a couple of minutes at a time before being interrupted, or interrupting yourself. I don't like the security blanket aspect of smartphones, which tends to take us - including me - over: we apparently all feel we're so needed we have to constantly check in with the universe to shore up our egos.
On a related note, parts of this FT column by the urbane (and sometimes irritating) Tyler Brule rang bells for me. In part of 'Time for a Digital Rethink' he reflects on a peaceful dinner with a non-smartphone owning friend. In case the piece lies behind the FT's paywall, I will quote from the part that had me nodding in agreement:
"How could we have arrived at a point where it’s now perfectly acceptable to send correspondence peppered with errors? And where one of the most celebrated devices, created by one of the world’s most valuable companies, has forced people to add bizarre disclaimers excusing all of their mistakes, while failing to mention that touchscreen technology is still a nightmare for anyone who wants to put their point across?
Why have we allowed functional buttons, knobs and dials to become demonised, while stroking sheets of backlit glass as if it were the most rewarding, sensual experience?"
Call me a curmudgeon, but I'm with him. I now have an iPad and I like it very much, but if it weren't for the fact that the BlackBerry is all but useless when it comes to using the internet or apps, I would keep it rather than switch to an iPhone, which I will likely do next month when my current phone's contract finally expires. I like the BlackBerry keyboard. I can never get used to the idea of writing poorly punctuated emails full of 'fat thumb error' disclaimers, and regret that we are all getting used to this as being 'normal'. It shouldn't be.