Although it isn’t a new issue, an article today in Slate reminded me of my love-hate relationship with cell-phones, smart phones, and any device that encourages people to be more “accessible.” The Slate article argues that it is being constantly available that is so very draining on adults in today’s society – and reminds me of the claims made about texting and availability among teens. I think that what she says has a lot of merit. I remember when I was a teen, when people use to “leave messages” when I was out of the house. It was nice not feeling like I always had to respond immediately whenever something comes up, especially because so often this “something” is not especially important or can wait. And I can definitely validate the changing expectations that society has – I once had a student complain that four hours had passed and I had not responded to an email asking a question. After this complaint, I always made sure at the beginning of the semester to highlight my “24-hour email response policy” but I also did agree to notify the students when I was away for an extended period of time – such as when I was out-of-town.
Meanwhile, I can also see the benefits of being so connected. I own an Andriod phone, and I do love that I can check my email any time and from any location. Just yesterday, I recognized again my reliance on my phone. When I was supposed to meet my husband after he dropped off our car for repairs, I realized I didn’t remember the name of the place or the location – and more importantly, I didn’t have my phone so I could look those things up or call my husband to see where he was. We were able to sort it out (I remembered the location well enough to see him walking to Wendy’s in hopes of finding me), but there was an “oh-shit” moment when I realized I didn’t have my phone and I was going to have to do things the “old-fashioned” way. I rely on my phone to be able to always check my email for information, use my GPS for directions, or to call someone when trying to meet up.
My personal solution for dealing with this enjoyment of being able to access the Internet without wanting to always be accessible is simply not to be accessible. I am the first to admit that I don’t always answer my phone, even if I see it ringing. There are times when I am not in the mood to talk or just want to be away (for example, dates are strictly phone-free, a policy that required some enforcement at the beginning of my relationship). Even when I get emails, if I am out-of-town, I often won’t answer unless it is urgent. Some may say it is hypocritical – and maybe it is. But it is the solution that has worked best for me, and what is wrong with having your cake and eating it too?
I’m eager to hear how other people have dealt with this issue. Have you avoided getting a smart phone? Only answer at certain times? Or answer whenever you can?