In all of the talk about devices that provide pervasive internet connectivity (like the iPhone, Palm Pre, and Android phones), I had yet to see anyone address what I see as the most significant drawback of such devices. Until, that is, Tim Bray wrote up his experience with his Android G1 phone and included this:
Temptation and Work-Life Balance
If you haven’t had a real Internet phone before, and you’re a wired kind of person, there are social stresses. If you can always glance at your email or Gtalk or Twitstream, the temptation to fill any otherwise-blank moment by doing so is considerable. Your mind may find itself classifying a lull in conversation with your spouse as an “otherwise-blank moment” which turns out almost always to be inappropriate. [Tim Bray, July 19, 2009]
I’ve never been good with self-discipline. I don’t have cable-tv for this reason. Not because I don’t want to watch it, but because I do. If I had cable, I would watch it – for hours – and not anything in particular. I don’t see any reason to think that my behaviour with an always-connected phone would be any different.
I’m not particularly concerned about inappropriate use (during conversations, etc.). The problem for me would more likely one of frequency and volume. I would probably be better off if I could only check my email and feeds twice a day, rather than any time I want. Adding the ability to do it while I wait in line at the grocery store might not be a net gain in my quality of life (and grocery-line magazine covers are my only life-line to celebrity gossip).
Neil Postman talked about how the dawn of electronic communication filled our lives with impertinent information, mostly due to the proximity (or rather lack thereof) of the information sources. It seems we’re about to start carrying that entire problem around in our pockets.
I certainly don’t mean this as any kind of judgment on others with such devices. You’re probably a better person that I am and can manage your impulses. If you have the discipline to use it wisely, then great. I’m not sure I do.