A couple of years ago, I mentioned to a neighbour that the firm I was working for then, was issuing Blackberry units to key employees as a “benefit”. He sneered derisively: “Yeah, the perfect way to hang an 80-hour work week on someone”. He was right. Those gizmos, now ubiquitous, certainly extend the range, and operating hours, of work. But they’ve increasingly taken over the elective expenditure of time, too. Any quick glance around a busy intersection will reveal at least two or three people actively tuned in and zoned out.
Microsoft has a series of ads for their new device that purports to be a satire of current PDA use. Unfortunately, by definition, it’s not really a parody because it’s showing a picture of the situation pretty much as it already is. The upshot of the Microsoft ad campaign is that their device will be less demanding of your time, letting you get “in” and “out” more quickly. Here’s a radical thought: Why not just leave the thing at home?
Another (occasionally) wise friend of mine once quipped that a phone has “no constitutional right to be answered”. For me, that’s become an increasingly useful guideline for PDA use. I’ve realized it’s more than possible to avoid the Pavlovian jump to phone rings and notification beeps, it’s very liberating.
There’s probably a point where the tools that technology provides, become owners of our time, attention and fealty. With all the talk of the machines “taking over” it’d be ironic (at least) if the surrender was complete even before the machines actually accomplished anything resembling “intelligence”. Here are a couple of modest suggestions for re-defining your relationship with the PDA:
1) Leave home without it sometimes. Your emails, voicemails and Facebook updates will still be there when you check in.
2) Don’t respond to every notification sound you hear. Remember: These things have memory (that’s sort of why they’re useful).
3) Designate PDA-free ‘zones’ (places) and ‘windows’ (times) in your life.
If you do the foregoing, there’s still a remote chance we might yet prevail over the machines in the long run.