Too In Touch

I guess I just didn't understand how the long twisty cord on the telephone handset was supposed to stay untangled. It was elastic and always wanted to twist. In 1973 it dangled contortedly from our phone hung high on the kitchen wall.
The cord got knotted after almost every use reducing it to less than half of its expected reach. It was maddening to twirl it like a jump rope hoping it would unravel -only to see it seize into a bigger knot of rubbery messiness. And when it was successfully unraveled, parts were stretched straight which seemed to make the next tangle easier and worse. It was a huge inconvenience that mom couldn't walk freely everywhere in the kitchen while talking on the phone. She was exiled over by the table and pantry, unable to reach the food cooking on the stove without getting herself into a "Twister" position by stretching the cord as far as it would go then stretching her arm the rest of the way to the pot. She simply wanted to communicate freely by phone while going anywhere in the kitchen.

Fast-forward three decades and I'm prepping a client for a trip. He's visiting Tazmania, an island just south of Australia. Before he leaves I set him up with an international power adapter kit to make sure he can convert power for his laptop from any electrical outlet in the world. He has 3 different dial-up Internet access accounts to make sure he can keep in touch by email. His trip included only hotels that featured Internet access (with concierge aware in advance of his need), and his wireless handheld computer (PDA) was configured to retrieve his email should he be lucky enough to be within range of a roaming cell phone signal while out and about. If all these tools failed, his assistant was at his office waiting to fax emails to his hotel lobby so he could keep "in touch." He wanted to communicate freely by email while going anywhere in the world. This is how he vacationed.

I remember my first pager because, with it, I felt so accessible and in touch. If the batteries went dead or if I forgot it at home I felt certain I was missing 100's of important pages until I anxiously slid new batteries in or rushed back into my apartment to eagerly check the tiny readout. I was hooked and in touch.

Cell phones came and I wondered what all the hype was about. They were expensive, big and why would I carry one when there's a perfectly functioning phone nearly everywhere I go? After getting my first cell I couldn't understand how I had lived without it. I was now able to talk on the way to everywhere I went. If my cell battery died or if (heaven forbid) I lost my cell this would trigger instant "out of touch" panic complete with forehead sweat beads and an inability to concentrate until a cell with good signal was in my hand again.

Enter email. I got my first email address in 1994 with a company newly named America Online. It was fun to send the free messages even though not many people had email addresses yet. AOL had some trouble in the early years when it introduced unlimited access resulting in an inability to meet usage demands. I remember getting busy signals when trying to connect. This sparked a rage in me even I wouldn't have predicted. I must have my email. I want to stay in touch. I sent a nasty email message to AOL explaining the torment of their busy signals, then dumped them just before they fixed the problem by way of a deal with MCIWorldcom.

Enter wireless! Nowadays more and more coffee shops, hotels, airports and other public places are sporting wireless Internet access for patrons. If you have a laptop with a wireless networking card you be fully e-connected as if you are at home just by bringing your laptop in range. I know people that patronize a coffee shop not because the coffee is good, but because they get a good "wireless signal" for their surfing and email there.

Have we taken communication and being "in touch" too far? To the point where we can't be happy without it? The efficiency of communication technology is incredible but there are people now making money by providing Internet addiction therapy! I sometimes wonder if I'm in need. I have considered going to a country cabin for a weekend, leaving the cell phone, laptop, PDA all behind and only taking books. After the predictable panic attack I postpone it. Maybe I'm not OK.

Last week a client asked me to set him up with Blackberry PDA that incorporates wireless web surfing, wireless email, address book, a host of software programs and built-in cell phone. No matter where he goes, he can send/receive email, visit any web page, send/receive an emailed fax and call anyone by phone all with a device the size of a deck of cards. I warned him of the tremendous risk of depending on one small object for all those forms of communication on the road. He still wants it. Between you and me, if he loses it on the road, his life will temporarily stop and we will all hear the scream.

No Comments Yet.

Leave a comment

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!