To say we are in a different communication era from two decades ago would be an understatement. A few blinks back I was working in Silicon Valley when Jobs was launching the first Macintosh, (before he was fired from apple). Around the same time I occasionally ran documents for a major chip maker to the local Federal Express office in Sunnyvale to be sent via a new fangled system called fax. Not many years later, most road warriors that I knew spent considerably more travel hotel expense with telephone charges connecting their laptops to send/receive emails then they spent on the hotel’s room charge.
Now of course, just about everyone has a handheld device that can make bank transfers, free international phone calls, recommend restaurants, guide us where we go, hail a taxi, take and edit pictures and videos, and provide a quick massage — all at the same time. The result is that communicating is more efficient, less expensive, and significantly easier. Because it is all those, we’ve quickly grown more attached to those devices.
I love my device. Never leave home without it (almost). It is always at the ready. It’s more than just a smart phone. It wakes me up, keeps my appointments, answers calls, and performs a boatload of other tasks. It responds to the command of my voice (siri).
But my handled device and I came to an understanding long ago. I’m the alpha in our relationship. It listens to me. It heals. It knows who is boss. Oh it tried to be the boss, the controller, the alpha, and it took some time to squash that behavior.
Living and working in New York City, behavior is magnified by density. In an elevator for example, especially a crowded one, it’s easy to notice the majority who ride them are with focused attention to their handhelds. I make no apologies for staring at devices which may be in my line of sight. (Hey, screens of any type naturally attract our attention.) If someone is sharing face time with their device in public, it’s public. Because elevators are a way of life here, it’s a behavior noticeable on a grand scale. Whether their devices are calling or not, many who board elevators immediately whip them out. And what do most do? Press the wake button and scroll, up and down a few key apps, sometimes simply scrolling the contact list.
With the millions of handheld devices in circulation in the last decade, many have not figured out how to become the alpha in their handheld relationships and have relinquished that role to the device. And the alpha device demands attention. Hence, handheld elevator behavior is replicated in most other places and circumstances where time is more importantly (and conveniently) spent with our alpha handhelds.
Of course there are times when texting or emailing or using apps on the run make sense. That’s the beauty and value of the handheld. They are there when we need them. But for many, it goes well beyond need. They become consuming. They are time-fillers and provide more comfort than taking a deep breath and just being.
Twice over the past six months, two different nieces and their boyfriends were in town. Both times I was lucky enough to have shared lunch. In each occasion all three of us had our devices tucked away. In each case, we were masters over the device. We were the alphas. The gathering of non-alpha devices was refreshing, and unusual.
Whether alpha or not, our personal handhelds have evolved to be our communication lifeline. Many of us would be lost without the companionship. We’d be lost without the device which requires so much attention. Attention many of us are eager to give.
And I’ll stop here as it’s been three days since I’ve looked at my iPhone. But since I’m in Colombia, the handheld is not roaming but resting on airplane mode. Although I’m comforted to know that it’s not wanting for (too much) attention, I’d feel better taking it out in search of wifi to feed it. Maybe I’m not as alpha as I thought.