As people who know me will tell you, I’m kind of a weirdo about technology. I do computer work and actually hate computers at least some of the time. I write electronic music and not totally comfortable with the idea of electronic music. I love drum ‘n bass and all that, but I still have this dumb notion in the back of my mind that real people should be in the same room playing instruments that they’ve worked to learn in order to make “real” music, especially someone like me who has practiced doing just that, it seems almost treasonous to do computer-only stuff. I own a cell phone but I never answer it. I mean, I’m OK at figuring out technology-related problems that arise in my life so some people mistakenly think of me as a “techy.” I’m not. I’m able to just generally figure stuff out because if I don’t fix certain kinds of problems, nobody else is going to do it for me. And if what I need to figure out happens to be on a computer, then I’ll figure it out. But I also figure stuff related to food, music, dogs, parenting, home maintenance, politics, photography, shaving, clothing, reading, writing, and just about anything related to living. Since I wear glasses most of the time, that makes me a “techie” I guess. Whatever. Anway, to those who know my relationship to cell phones and computers, what I say next may shock and amaze you.
To be perfectly clear, I’m just kind of crumudgeon-ish when it comes to cell phones and laptops – you’d think that someone who spends more hours working on a computer than sleeping would have some tolerence, but I spend enough of my time around that stuff that I feel resentful when it creeps into my away-from-the-computer time, so the whole “everyone has a laptop in every coffee shop” thing means I don’t go to coffee shops any more. I’m old-school enough to resent the guy in the corner of the otherwise quiet coffee shop engaged in his loud, Bluetooth-enabled conversation with nobody. (I don’t begrudge anyone those activities, I just don’t want to be around them in my spare time.) My own voice mail points out that I go for weeks at a time without even knowing where my cell phone is, so I encourage people not to leave messages there.
Last week, I got a “smart phone.”
Here’s the thing; my day gig has created a new kind of stress for me, and I’m trying to adapt to it and work around it. There are big changes in my biggest client, and after 5 or 6 years of a constantly crushing workload, I suddenly have big windows of time where nothing happens. Not constant free time or anything like that, but not continual wall-to-wall action every day, either. It’s been hard, actually. One client in particular says things like “I will call you in 5 minutes,” and then doesn’t talk to me for 3 days, so I spend weird, nonproductive days in front of the computer waiting for the important work to arrive. Sometimes the 20 minutes only turns into 4 hours, sometimes it does turn into a couple of days, but waiting for the work is much more difficult than doing the work, so I get crazy. I don’t know that I’ll have a 3-day empty period until the 3 days is over, and it’s just a terrible use of time. And when something does finally come in, these days it usually needs to be done quickly, so I have to know about it. I’ve been a little trapped. 3 days of nothing followed by work that NEEDS to be done in 14 minutes makes me crazy, but I have to be here in case it happens. And it happens.
Enter Smart Phone. Now, I can receive and respond to emails away from my desk. I can’t actually do work, per se, but I can find out if a fire has started that I will need to help put out, and I don’t need to dread either stepping away from my desk or returning to it. It may not sound like a big deal since people have been doing just this years, but in my own life, I realized that if I can go outside to play with my daughter for even 30 minutes instead of checking the weather again while I’m waiting for the phone to ring, that’s 30 minutes well spent, and I want them. I haven’t needed to use technology in this way up until now because I’ve been overloaded with work, but now, even if my “away time” is only 200 feet away, I’ll take it.
I also wanted to plan for contingencies on an upcoming trip I have; I’m visiting a place where I won’t have convenient access to an internet connection, and there’s every reason to believe that I’ll need one at at least some point while I’m gone. Enter the Smart Phone; I have it set up so I can use the phone as a modem, and I can connect to the internet wherever I have a decent signal, no wires, just magic. It’s not exactly breakneck speedy, but it’ll work. (I liked the iPhone when I was shopping, but their data plan specifically prohibits using their phone in this manner, so I had to cross it off the list. Life goes on; I don’t hate Apple, but we’re not close like we used to be.)
So the idea is that if I’m busy with work, I sit here and I work. No problem. And if I’m not busy with work, I can walk away for a little while without worrying about what I’m missing. If it works out to give me even the tiniest extra freedom, it’ll be worth the price of actually needing to carry my cell phone around, having it on at least some of the time, and even answering it. My cell phone habits still lag generally 10 or 15 years behind everyone else’s – I’m old fashioned enough to hate talking while I drive, and if I get a call while I’m eating with someone, I’ll excuse myself and take the call outside, that kind of thing – but I have to admit, getting a little more wired may actually make my life a little better. Of course, I may just end up spending a lot more every month to still be stuck in front of the computer, but that’s at least partly up to me now.