As a child, I could spend all day knocking around the neighborhood, maybe going home to eat, maybe not, but my family didn’t hear from me for hours on end, which was fine with me. Now such a thing is unthinkable.
Availability has become a virtue. My business card has numbers for a land line, a cell phone and a fax line, in addition to my e-mail address and the company Web site. In a typical day, I can be contacted in any of those ways, plus instant messaging, our primary intra-company communication.
In the late 1990s I gave in to a cellular phone. I spent my days incommunicado, cleaning houses, and I wanted a way for my family to be able to contact me. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and it gave my wife and me some peace of mind. I didn’t use it much; I just liked having it.
Like most of us, I’ve come to depend on high technology. My work e-mail crashed or exploded or something a few weeks ago, and I still feel the repercussions. I’d gotten so used to electronic communication that I forgot it’s just electrons swooping around and not nearly as reliable in most cases as paper. I’m still trying to piece things together. If all those words had been transmitted by phone I know I likely wouldn’t be in any better shape; but I know my memory is spotty and I would’ve taken notes the way I used to do. Losing my e-mail made me feel betrayed. I trusted it.
Still, I love e-mail. It’s usually reliable and fast, though I love e-mail mostly because it’s quiet. No phone rings. There may be somebody impatiently waiting for a reply, but I’ll get to it when I get to it, which brings me to instant messaging.
Instant messaging combines the worst of e-mail and the telephone—the message has to be written out one word at a time and I’m expected instantly to reply. I’m obviously online because there’s my name in the sender’s buddy list, so what’s the holdup?
I’ve also had some major misunderstandings via e-mail and instant messaging because of a typo, or just because the sender’s emphasis wasn’t the same as mine when I read it. Then there’s text messaging, about which the less said, the better.
I knew guys whose jobs issued them pagers when they were a novelty. Having a pager meant they were important, and they were proud of having one. I thought it meant mostly that they were always on call and liable to be required to snap to attention at a moment’s notice. I didn’t like that.
I think of my cell phone as an electronic leash, and I’m so used to it that I miss it if it’s not nearby. Not long ago I went out without it, and when I realized it wasn’t with me I felt suddenly half-dressed and very far away from home. It was wonderful.