Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Movement for Slow Communication?

So yesterday, I hit a crucial milestone. Indeed, I finally entered the 21st century.

But before we get to that, let's talk for a moment about what I was listening to on the NPR just immediately before. Diane Rehm was interviewing John Freeman about his new book The Tyranny of Email, and Freeman was advocating a movement toward "slow communication" - a return to letter-writing, a resistance against ever faster forms of communicating (email, for one, but also Twitter, blogging, Facebook, texting). As I was listening, I found myself nodding in agreement about a lot of what he was saying. I spend a lot of my life resisting the need to be constantly available for communication. This may sound odd, given the fact that I've got a blog. But the thing that I like about blogging is that it's not really about me being constantly available: I choose when I post, I choose how frequently I check in, I control the amount of engagement that I devote to the blog. In contrast, I struggle with the amount I'm expected to be available via email, via phone, via whatever. As a professor, I've got pretty near constant demands for my attention. And one of the things about being always in touch is that one can't actually pay total attention to any one thing. I don't like that. My thought has always been that I need to manage my availability so that when I'm, say, meeting with a student, I'm really focused on that student. Not on what emails come in or the phone that's ringing. When I'm shopping, I want to be 100% shopping - not answering calls or texts on a cell phone. When I'm on the phone, I want to be 100% in the conversation I'm having - and I want other people to show me the same courtesty. (Though I'll admit that even I become distracted sometimes when on the phone, so it's not like I'm some paragon of single-tasking virtue or something.)

At any rate. The point is, one way in which I've maintained my commitment to this is that I've resisted participating in what I like to think of as "cell phone culture." I do not need to be on the phone when I'm out in the world. I do not need to be texting when I'm walking around on campus (something that fills me with constant rage when others do it, and let's not even start with the people who text and DRIVE). Now, I did finally succumb to having an "emergency" cell phone maybe 6 or 7 years ago - one of those ones you buy at target and you just load with minutes. I only ever had it on or used it when I traveled, for the most part. But recently, I'd found myself thinking that it was time for me to have a "real" cell phone - one that I might be more likely to use and one through which people could, ostensibly, get a hold of me - if only every now and again. I'll admit, the frequent mailings from my home phone company about deals may have had something to do with my interest in pursuing the mobile technology. Even Crazy is susceptible to the advertising. Also, my parents both have cell phones, and have done for years, and they've been bugging me to have a cell phone that I actually use.

But so anyway, after listening to this interview in which the interviewee waxed poetic about how we all needed to turn off our cell phones and our computers and return to writing and sending paper letters, I walked into the Cell Phone Store. It was packed with people, young and old. So it was my turn to be taken care of, and the very nice boy who waited on me I think found me hysterical. First, he couldn't believe that I'd never had a "real" cell phone. I suppose he doesn't encounter many people like me in his line of work. He looked at me with wonder when I asserted that "I refuse to become one of those cell phone people." Indeed, he was confused by this statement, and I had to explain what "Those Cell Phone People" are. And then, somehow, I walked out of that store with a brand new Blackberry Curve and a spring in my step.

Now, let's just note that I had not intended to get such a fancy phone. I was just thinking "real phone that doesn't suck like my silly cheap-ass phone." But it turns out a) that the blackberries were the cheapest phones to buy, b) that somehow even with one of the lowest-minute plans, I get unlimited texts, access to email and the internet, GPS, etc., and c) that my monthly bill for home phone/internet/cell will actually go DOWN from what it was. (No, I don't understand how that's possible, really, but apparently for the 75 bucks after rebate that I spent on the phone, the world is now my oyster in terms of "mobile device" technology, without an increase in my monthly bill.) Ah, the world of bundling. And no contract.

What's insane is that last night I had a dream that my phone was caught in a horrifying rainstorm/flood/fountain of water, and that I had to rescue it. Apparently, I am in love and fearful that my phone will somehow be compromised, even though prior to yesterday, I cared not at all about such things. Have I become "one of those cell phone people"? In less than 24 hours?

I think no. But here's the thing. I don't really think the answer with technology is to turn back the clock. I think the answer is probably figuring out how to negotiate it and not to become ruled by it. We'll see how that goes for me.

But I heart my phone. It is awesome.

(A few people have asked why I didn't get the iPhone. Well, the only reason is because I am committed to keeping a home phone and I didn't want to spend like a gajillion dollars more a month to have it plus a cell. I still prefer to talk on a land line, and as a single lady alone in the world, I believe in a home phone for 911-related purposes, and also in the event of things like power outages. I know I'm old-fashioned. But this is how it is. And since I've got my home phone, my internet, and the cell through one provider, I get to have all of my things without any extra cost. And my company doesn't carry iPhones. So there we are.)


Lawgirl said...

Welcome to the Crackberry nation!! No, really, www.crackberry.com exists and it has every accessory you could ever want for your new phone.

I have the Pink Blackberry Curve. I love it, but when my next upgrade comes around, I'm going with the Tour.

Susan said...

I like having a cell phone for when I'm traveling. It makes life much easier at conferences. (No more of the "what room are you in?") But I turned down the text plan, because really, I don't need that. And the notion that you don't exist if you're not talking to someone -- it's so not me. But I'm not giving up my home phone either.

I have an iPhone, and I love it,and sometimes it's great to be able to delete emails while I'm someplace else. But I probably underuse it!

Crescentius Matherus said...

This past spring, I got rid of my Facebook and Myspace accounts. I've never been on twitter, nor do I plan to. I can't express my hatred for these things in words.

E-mail is even becoming somewhat old-fashioned among the younger generation. Instead of e-mailing, they send facebook messages. My sister (a college freshman) rarely checks her personal e-mail. She has a school account, but that's for stuff that can't be done through facebook. It's even common to find professors and undergrad admissions representatives facebooking or tweeting.

g.n.a.t. recently blogged about the consequences of technology on archival sources and print research. http://phdsurvival.blogspot.com/2009/09/future-of-archival-sources.html

Dr. Crazy said...

Crescentius - first, thanks for your comment, and welcome! I think it's your first time commenting here.

Re: facebook, I've got to say, I'm a prof who facebooks. That said, I'm Fb friends with former students, not with current ones. It's an easier way of keeping track of those who've moved on than email - email addresses change - Fb addresses don't. I'm not friends with every former student, but those I am Fb friends with are students that I want to keep track of, and being able to do so has been beneficial not only to me, my dept., to those former students, but also to my current students. In that regard (as well as in the regard of being able to be in better touch with extended family and friends from long ago), I think facebook is a good technology.

I never did the myspace thing, so I don't know re: it. Re: twitter, I have an account that I posted like two tweets to, and then abandoned it. But people still keep adding me to their twitter feeds. I don't really understand the point of twitter, but this may be because I'm a dinosaur.

I think that my hope for all of the current technology is that it doesn't supplant the old technologies (print sources, the archive) but rather that it enhances those old technologies. I don't think that it needs to be an either/or, and I think there's value in exploring the potential of new technologies (and then in discarding them if they don't do what one needs them to do). Thanks for the link, though. I really enjoyed reading that post!

Susan: what's so funny is that one of the reasons I finally went the way of a "real" cell phone was for texting (and now with my fancy phone - the ease of emailing from it! which I'd not really realized was even possible!). I don't want to talk on the phone to people when I'm out and about, but there are times when a quick message is useful. And conferences were SO a reason why I wanted a real cell phone! For the past 8-10 years I've just had to hitch myself to the wagons of people with decent cell phones in order to organize my social life. Now I'm independent and free! I can make plans without latching on to people with superior technology!

Dr. Crazy said...

Lawgirl: I just talked to my friend J. tonight (who's a corporate non-academic type) and she just got the pink blackberry curve! She was so excited that I too entered the crackberry nation. (off to download the pandora app now.....)

Comet Jo said...

Agreed on cell phones as key for conferences and Facebook for keeping up with old friends - really, I can't think of anyone its more perfect for than academics, who else has so many friends in such scattered places.

But the funny thing is my experience of texting: I've never been all that into it, but I'm an anthropologist, and I was basically dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century the last time I visited my field site by the people I work with, who all text and don't talk because the former is ridiculously cheap there and the latter is ridiculously expensive.

Dr. Crazy said...

I've got to admit, one of the reasons I'm so into the texting is that I've got unlimited texts with my plan (where I only have 500 on-peak talking minutes....)

helenesch said...

I think the e-mail/internet capacities of the blackberry (or iphone) make it *very* different from regular cell phones, which can't send/receive e-mail and cannot get online.

I have a cell phone but it actually doesn't work in my apartment, which serves as a good excuse for me not to put many minutes on it. I got it about three years ago, just for emergencies when I'm on the road.

But I spend wayyy too much time online, since I'm in front of my computer either at home or at school nearly all the time (except when I'm "out"). Anyone who wants to reach me can get a pretty quick reply from me by e-mail. I know that getting an i-phone or blackberry would be convenient in some ways, but I really, really worry about e-mail taking over my life! I sometimes go out (with friends, or even just out on errands alone) and wonder what drama I'm missing over e-mail. But it's nice to be forced not to know what I'm missing--to have that peaceful time away from the constant contact. And if I had an iphone or blackberry, I doubt I would restrain myself from taking it with me everywhere... Which means the stress of work would follow me everywhere.

Anyway, I want to check out the book you mention, since it sounds like I'd really agree. Good luck on the self-restraint! I'm sure I'll give in someday...

Shannon said...

Totally agree with you on the land line thing. My husband wants to ditch it now that we too have moved into this century in terms of cell phones. But I want it for safety AND I just think the sound quality is far superior on land lines. Call me old fashioned too.

PhysioProf said...

My experience is that e-mail and blackberry permit me to slow down communication in exactly the way that Freeman is talking about. E-mail and blackberry allow *me* to control how I attend to various demands on my time, addressing--or ignoring--communication inputs where and when *I* want to. E-mail and blackberry allow me to devote as much or as little attention to communication inputs as *I* choose.

The fact that some pathetic assholes walk around in a fucking stupor with a flashing blue light in their ear and a blackberry in their hand 24/7 doesn't change this. Freeman is blaming the tools, when the problem is the mechanic.

Bavardess said...

I've been trying to ignore the siren call of the Crackberry myself, lately. I like the fact that phone-based email & texting unchains me from an office. I can bunk off to the beach or a cafe and still get some productive work done. The technologies themselves can be either liberating or constraining - it's all in the way you choose to use them.

repressed librarian said...

I have a BlackBerry Tour, and I adore it. I like much better than an iPhone!