iPhoning It In

April 16, 2009

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.