iPhoning It In

Personal Digital Assistants. Do they still call them that? It sounds like a euphemism for Mommy’s Little Helper, which may be closer to the truth.

My father was a military man, not by choice, but he rose to the occasion. The letters PDA stir memories of stories about the rules against Public Displays of Affection on the West Point campus in the late 1960s. The Army still hasn’t figured out how to police our soldiers’ sexuality, but that’s for another post.

Dad gave me a running start in associating my Blackberry with giving up a certain degree of personal freedom, but even I never paused to consider the true price of obsessively using these incredible tools. And I dismissed anyone who whined about having to “always be available” as not one of us, a member of the productive class.

Then I was deeply provoked by the following paragraph in the NYT’s interview with John Donahoe, the CEO of eBay since 2008:

…I try to only do e-mail first thing in the morning or in the evening, because I find if I check e-mail during the day, I go from being proactive about what I want to get accomplished that day to being reactive, and that’s a bit of a trap. Being reactive is a lot easier than being proactive, and e-mail and the BlackBerry are natural tools to facilitate that.

It’s that “easier” word that got me. My life is easier, but rarely better when I’m strapped to this little machine. In any given moment, quite literally, I can avoid the discomfort of having to focus my thoughts and actions. Instead of determining my destiny, I can let my brain fill up with someone else’s issues or LinkedIn request or cure for erectile dysfunction. Instead of seizing the day, I can submit to being seized.

Yes, John, easier is the word. It doesn’t sound like a big deal until I think of the aggregate number of times that I’ve checked for new messages in the last five years.

2 Responses to iPhoning It In

  1. caferacers says:

    Maybe if JD checked his email during the day eBay wouldn’t be tanking. And if Meg Whitman followed this same philosophy, that would explain a lot (and doesn’t bode well for California’s future if she becomes California’s governor).

  2. Brandon says:

    I work for a large company with office locations across the globe. There’s an old saying that the sun doesn’t set on the British Empire, and I think that’s true with most major companies these days.

    With manufacturing in China, and R&D budgets spread everywhere from the East and West coasts, to Cambridge, Prague, Singapore, Shanghai, Pune, Moscow and Sydney, it’s become really easy to get meaningful E-mails 24×7. And it’s not just a PDA that facilitates this digital burden, it’s the entire digital age that bears down.

    Speaking from personal experience, I have been advocating awareness of the dangers related to leaders becoming ‘reactive’ instead of ‘proactive’ for the past couple years. On any given day I can easily receive 60-100 E-mails that are pretty important and very detailed. The wording in this article was so Déjà vu for me, there was a nostalgic euphoria for me. There’s a level of service that leaders owe their peers, but most successful leaders can safely ignore 50% of their E-mails if the people in those roles are competent and able to make the right decision without fine tuning or reassurance. Beware though, when unqualified people are appointed that need handholding, more diligence is needed and a leader will always be reacting to the deficiencies in the team.

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