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Being Connected

This is the longest blog entry I can remember writing. It is also one of the rare pieces that I have written that is somewhat personal and focused more on society than technology.

I was back visiting my family during the holidays and several members of my family remarked “you are always bent over your phone (Blackberry) all the time – is it really that interesting?” or something to that effect. I realized that I have become so accustomed to being around people who are always checking their phones/devices for new messages, email, text messages, or calls that it seems like second nature to do it all the time. I hadn’t really thought about the fact that such behavior is considered incredibly rude in certain circles.

I realize that I am surrounded by people who are like me and I have started to think that such behavior is perfectly normal. Think about it and maybe you can relate. Maybe you work at a company where everyone has a Blackberry or a Treo and carries it around at all times. Maybe there is wireless in every room and people use it. Perhaps you send and receive email at all hours of the night? Have you ever “gone to the bathroom” to send an important message or respond to a voicemail during a social outing? If you have ever done any (or several) of these things, you are like a lot of people who work I know in high technology. If not, you must work in some other highly interrupt-driven job or industry.

The oddest thing about these behaviors is that for those who do not live like this it seems incredibly odd to spend so much time “being connected” and for those who live this way it seems perfectly natural. A large part of the work experience for people like me is spent responding to interruptions (which I will loosely define as events that weren’t in your Outlook calendar when you woke up in the morning). Shockingly, interruptions can come at all times. Managing interruptions is not an easy thing to do. Interruptions don’t say “oh, I see you are having dinner – I will interrupt you later when it’s more convenient.”

I have noticed that I spend such a big portion of my day dealing with interruptions as soon as they appear that the idea of turning off that mode of operating is not easy to do as soon as I walk out of the office. Some of it is due to the fact that technology makes it easy to stay in touch. Some of it is due to the fact that we don’t have real good work/social norms around when it’s okay to disconnect. A lot of it is due to the fact that interrupt-driven work environments attract ambitious, hard-working people. I have been reading a lot of post-CES articles on partial attention syndrome or work-life encroachment and none of them resonated with me. With work taking up half (or more) of one’s working hours, is it any wonder that, work habits are impacting the way people behave in their personal lives? Hopefully this post will resonate with some of you out there.

I don’t know if being connected at all times is a good or a bad thing. I kinda like it, to be honest. But I know that not everyone is like me and one’s choice of being connected can have a real impact on others.

Finally, I want to add a few more things to this post. I have been studying my own behavior and the behavior of others and have identified the following set of what I will call emerging norms for the perpetually connected. I have seen (or participated) in all of these behaviors:

*It is okay to check your phone/Blackberry/Treo while your friend is in the bathroom, but you need to have it back in your pocket when he/she returns.
*If your friend pulls out his/her phone to take a call or check email, it’s okay for you to do it as well. You should both try to wrap up at the same time.
*If you show up for an appointment early, it’s okay to make calls until the other party arrives. Not finishing the call up once the other party arrives is generally considered rude.
*Having a laptop open during a meeting is not necessarily rude if the vast majority of others in the meeting are doing the same.
*If you are going to leave your phone on during a meeting/meal, the presumption is that you are going to answer it if it rings. If you decide to leave it on, you might as well just check it.
*Checking your phone during a meeting or meal is often considered just as rude as actually taking a call.

Comments? You can always email me and let me know.