I’ve written a couple of times about my Blackberry, once to admit my addiction , and another time to praise its benefits and present this perspective – “it shouldn’t be the center of your universe, but it can sure keep you centered in this universe”. Those words came clearly back to me this morning when I read several Letters to the Editor in the NY Times referring to a July 5 op-ed piece by Tom Friedman entitled “The Age of Interruption” (sorry, subscription is required). I hadn’t read the piece yet so these letters of guilt and indignation about how “attention is a victum of our electronics-filled digital age” resurfaced my own doubts and concerns about the benefits and drawbacks of that little black disc attached to my waist.
I went back and read the op-ed piece, and sure enough, Friedman went as far to say that our electronic age has created a “disease for our age”, labeled as “continuous partial attention” by former Microsoft executive Linda Stone, and described as “multitasking your way through the day, continuously devoting only partial attention to each act or person you encounter“. After digesting this I asked myself the parodoxical question “In this day and age, can “connecting” actually mean disconnecting?”, and followed that with, “Do I have this disease?”.
The immediate answers that came to mind were, “yes”, and “maybe”. I absolutely agree that in order for us to communicate “one on one” effectively in any medium, attention can only be focused on one interaction at a time. So, it’s easy to see how a connecting device like a cell phone or a Blackberry can function as a disconnector, like when one loudly rings the latest hip-hop tune when you are in the middle of a passionate discussion with someone at the local Starbucks. The hard part is looking in the mirror and asking yourself “how often has your Blackberry actually served to disconnect, rather than connect?”
Upon reflection, I could recall occasions where this has happened, however inadvertently. The red lights, the vibrating, the ringing, and of course the answering or replying, whether taking place in public or during a one-on-one discussion, is frought with “disconnecting” potential. The solution? Once again the beauty of blogging – it was about a few sentences ago when it hit me: the lines between “public” and “private” usage are also differences between viewing Blackberrys and their ilk as plusses or minuses. When I’m alone and traveling through the Rockies the device is a lifeline that keeps me connected, but yet free to put on thousands of miles without worrying that I’ll fall hopelessly behind – that was what Tonya Poole was also talking about in her New West article that prompted my April post. In fact, anytime I’m alone the device is beneficial. It’s when you are with other people or in public place where the “crossover” takes place from connector to disconnector.
Here’s the cure for the “disease” – we just have to constantly be alert for that crossover from plus to minus. A little plain-old common sense, a teaspoon of self-awareness, and an ounce of consideration should do the trick. So the Blackberry stays, and I’m a little wiser for it.