We interrupt this life for a text message
Opinion

We interrupt this life for a text message

I admit that I can be pretty long-winded at times. Concise verbal storytelling is not my strong suit. But, I was taken aback when, 30 seconds into explaining my future job plans and expecting a response from my fiancée, I was met with silence. Peeking around the corner, I saw him sitting on the couch, head bowed and bathed in a blue phosphorescence that could only belong to his best friend, Blackberry. He diligently typed out the memo/email/text message that needed immediate attention.  As I listened to the familiar tapping, I thought about this latest addiction sweeping society. Have we become so tuned into technology that we tune out our own lives?

According to a Pew Research Center survey, more than three-fourths of Americans own cell phones, and at least one-third of them have used their phone to email, instant message or search for information online. That number rises among full-time workers, as 89 percent have a cell phone and 19 percent have a Blackberry, Palm or other personal digital assistant. The demand to be easily accessible has increased expectations to always “be on,” even if you’re supposed to be “off.” Technology to push emails to one’s cell phone makes it that much harder to disconnect from the office even while watching The Office.

Jason Zarecor, whose company manages parking facilities downtown, said, “Do I have more demands placed on me today as a result of having a company Blackberry? Absolutely. But in the same respect, I expect my co-workers and colleagues to respond by the end of the day, if not within the hour. Being able to multitask or reply immediately to a colleague or boss, ultimately makes me more marketable and valuable in the long run.”

The pressure to respond immediately to emails and text messages isn’t exclusive to the business world. Growing up with instant messaging and the Internet has created the same expectation among Generation Y and the younger Millennials. But, technology continues to advance daily and unfortunately, Miss Manners hasn’t kept up—perhaps she didn’t get that email.

Regardless, chaotic connectivity is rampant. We have “continuous partial attention,” a phrase coined by technology consultant Linda Stone. It’s not motivated by the same impulse as multi-tasking, which tends to be more laid back.

“When we multi-task, we are motivated by a desire to be more productive and more efficient. Each activity has the same priority—we eat lunch AND file papers,” she said. “In a state of continuous partial attention, we’re motivated by a desire not to miss anything.” To do that, we focus on a primary task while we’re constantly scanning for other people, activities, or opportunities.”

A fairly recent trend, this constant scanning has largely evaded etiquette, bypassing the social norms typically placed on such new-fangled ideas. There are no rules on texting in public, nor is there an agreed upon proper time to update one’s Facebook status. But, having been ignored while my lunch date tediously replied to her co-worker’s text, is rude by my standards, it may be the norm for others.

Rebecca Ryan, founder of Next Generation Consulting, recalls an eye-opening interview for an upcoming project about the future of the workplace, with LaShonda, a 17-year-old girl.
Ryan was interviewing her at a food court. ““She was IM’ing, had her PDA on, her cell phone, the whole thing … I was so put off. I thought, ‘She’s not paying attention!’ “

Then Ryan asked, “LaShonda, what do you think will be the impact of technology on the future of work?’”

She looked me in the eye and asked, “What do you mean by technology?”

I looked at all of her gadgets on the table and said, “Like this stuff!”

She said, ‘This is only technology for people who weren’t raised with it.’

“The point that came home to rest for me is that for LaShonda, IM’ing and texting are like breathing,” Ryan said. “Fish don’t know they’re in water.”