Archives for April 2008
In a recent meeting with my colleagues, we all sat around a conference table, our identical Blackberries in front of us. As one by one the Blackberries chirped, clicked, chimed, and buzzed, we found ourselves laughing at we looked at each other and then down at our individual devices, simultaneously declaring, “It’s yours” or “It’s mine.”
As the meeting went on, we each took our turn emailing as the speaker continued talking, holding the little silver gadgets in our laps or just under the edge of the table, typing with our thumbs in a failed attempt to be unobtrusive and not disrupt the proceedings. Every one of us was, at some point, guilty of allowing technology to interrupt and compete with our focus upon what was being discussed in that room.
I have now made it my practice, when I am speaking to a group, to announce at the outset that I expect cell phones and Blackberries to be turned off or, at a minimum, put on the “vibrate” setting. I ask my audiences not to place their devices on the table in front of them, but, rather, to store them in their bag or pocket and use them only during breaks.
For the most part, my request is ignored. It is not uncommon to see attendees going in and out of the room as I am speaking.
I have tried a number of techniques to discourage and eliminate the behavior. For instance, when the IPhone first hit the market, I jokingly told my audiences that, if their phone rang during my presentation, I would confiscate it the way my son’s high school principal once collected his — and kept it until Friday afternoon. (You would have thought the world had quit spinning on its axis! I think I was actually punished, rather than my son, because I had to listen to him whine and complain about not being able to send text messages to his friends for four days.) I added, “So if you have an iIPhone, please let it ring because I’m looking for one. We will trade phones and I’ll thank you before you leave today.” Everyone laughed, but no one really got the message.
I’ve also stopped my presentation and waited for the offender to finish his/her activity, encouraging the rest of the audience to join me in watching him/her type. Undeterred, their thumbs have generally continued flying over the tiny keys until they are ready to hit “send.” When a class participant gets up and leaves the room, I sometimes encourage the rest of the class to wave at them as they exit, saying, “Let’s all wave!” or asking the person walking out with his/her cell phone up to his/her ear, “I hope you’re not going away angry.” Generally, they turn, wave back, laugh . . . and keep talking as they walk out the door.
Yes, I am a frustrated stand-up comic.
But I am also a frustrated public speaker.
I am old enough to remember life before cell phones and Blackberries. I recall when business was transacted without those convenient tools. I remember when a secretary would have to actually get up out of his/her chair and walk to a conference room to summon his/her boss to take a telephone call. Better yet, I remember the days when my secretary told callers, “I’m sorry, but she’s in a meeting. I’ll have her return your call when it concludes.” People were satisfied with that response. Whatever the issue was, it would wait for an hour, two hours, or even until the following day.
These days, secretaries just send an email, knowing that the boss will read it while in a meeting, class or seminar.
It seems that every issue has now been elevated to “urgent” status, requiring an immediate response. Just as our attention spans have shrunken so has our ability to receive responses to inquiries, address issues, and resolve conflicts. And as the acceptable “turn-around” time has evaporated, so, too, has our ability to analyze, ponder, consider, and deliberate over important matters. To our detriment, in my opinion.
With those quick responses come off the cuff remarks, snarky replies, and split-second decision-making that all too often, we regret later, especially when we realize that there was more information to be gathered, more factors to be taken into account, about which we were unaware when we fired off that reply email or text message.
How does all of this bode for the business and world leaders of tomorrow? Teenagers and even younger children are experts at text messaging. While we Baby Boomers have had to work to become adept at typing with our thumbs, and still struggle to remember which key is for punctuation and which is for the number keypad, not to mention grasp the text lingo, our kids find it perfectly natural.
Are we raising a generation of impulse buyers and leaders with attention spans matching those of gnats? And how can we ask them to pay attention in school and refrain from text messaging and emailing during class, using the cell phones and Blackberries we provide them, if we can’t refrain from the obnoxious and rude conduct ourselves? In other words, shouldn’t we be setting a better example, modeling behavior that will encourage them to “do as I do,” rather than as I say?
Click here to read Part Six.
Friday’s Feast #188
Name something you would categorize as weird.
Peanut butter and tuna sandwiches. My oldest son used to eat them every day. In fact, for awhile, I had to make them and pack them in his lunch. Thank God he outgrew that phase!
Here in California, it is unusually cold for late April, but that was fine with me. I settled in last evening, wrapped in my favorite blanket, to watch the seventh and final installment of HBO’s spectacular adaptation of David McCullough’s biography of John Adams. As with the prior episodes, I was not disappointed. The story of their lives was told with painstaking accuracy and the kind of attention to detail that has already rendered this mini-series a classic. As McCullough predicted, the audience comes away not just with information about the origins of this country, but “feeling what happened.”
What fascinated me as I watched each week was the central role played by the writings of the characters not just in shaping the foundation of the United States, but in providing us the ability, more than two hundred years later, to appreciate and understand how they lived, what they thought, and how their actions formed the world’s greatest democracy.
For me, the most interesting part of the story, for me, was the relationship between John and Abigail Adams, considered to be one of the greatest love stories of all time. They spent long periods of time away from each other, she raising four children and maintaining the family farm while he was off working to forge a nation out of rebellion. They communicated by letters delivered months or even years after they were penned. In all, they wrote more than 1,100 letters to each other! Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney studied those letters in preparation to bring John and Abigail back to life for a twenty-first century audience.
After leaving the White House and retiring to his farm, John Adams wrote his memoirs at Abigail’s urging. In one scene, papers strewn about his study, he doubts that posterity will be interested in his story-telling. “What possible use could anyone have for a seven-volume account of so many impulsive, tactless, ill-considered things?” he asks Abigail. “If I had it to do over again, I would be a farming, shoe-making deacon like my father.”
He also wrote letters to many other people. In fact, in their final years, Adams and Thomas Jefferson corresponded regularly.
What form will our memoirs take? Two hundred years from now, will authors still be writing biographies and Hollywood still churning out movies? If so, what tools will the biographers and script writers use to gain an understanding of how we lived our lives and what mattered to us?
John and Abigail Adams poured their hearts out to each other in long, handwritten letters that allow us to appreciate the depth of their commitment to their family, willingness to endure tremendous hardship for the sake of their commitment to their principles, and sincere respect and affection for one another. Were it not for those letters, we would be left to speculate about their relationship, perhaps through clues gleaned from others’ written observations of them.
As a child, I happened upon bundles of letters stored in my mother’s cedar chest. I remember sitting on the edge of my parents’ bed one day as my mother took the key from her jewelry box and lifted the lid to retrieve some long-stored treasure, the smell of cedar filling the room as the lid was propped open. I still recall exactly how everything was organized inside that mammoth receptacle, including the neatly bundled letters, tied with ribbon and tucked neatly into the shelf that was built into the lid. I picked them up and began flipping through them. My mother snatched them away from me, but not before I recognized a youthful version of her handwriting on envelopes addressed to my father.
Sometime between that day in the early 1960’s and 2002, when my sister and I combed through every inch of this house deciding which of their belongings we should keep and which would be either given or thrown away, one or both of my parents obviously decided that those letters should never be read by their children — or anyone else. When we retrieved the key from my mother’s jewelry box and opened the lid to begin dividing up the contents of that cedar chest before my sister removed it to her house, the letters were gone. And we never found them anywhere else in this house.
While I respect my parents’ decision to keep private whatever details about their lives were set forth on those pages, I am also saddened because the insight we would have gained into the early days of their relationship and the hardships they endured during World War II — when those letters were drafted — is lost forever.
How will the quality of our relationships be communicated to the generations who follow us? Through home videos, emails, and an assortment of Hallmark cards signed — as they are in our family — merely “Love, _____?”
We are perpetually connected to each other and the world around us through technology. But will the remnants of our daily transmissions communicate to our descendants the true nature and meaning of our interactions with and interconnectedness to those most important to us? Will they be able to appreciate and assess our intimate connections to other human beings through those ongoing snippets of communication?
And how many of us actually reveal our deepest, truest feelings in detail in written form, even if we do so via email or in a Word document? Considering the amount of information we absorb and data we process on any given day, as a direct result of being perpetually connected, how many of us even have the time left over to think about the quality of our most intimate relationships, much less write about our feelings?
I happened upon a blog recently where the author asked this question: If you knew you had just one week left to live, what would you do?
This week, I challenge you to consider this variation on that inquiry: If you knew you had just one week left to live, what would you write and to whom? Would you want to leave a written legacy to rival that of John and Abigail Adams or . . . would you want to write anything at all? Would you, like my parents, opt to destroy the writings already in existence that give insight into your relationships, keeping those details forever a secret known only to you and those persons?
Click here to read Part Five.
Tonight’s television viewing: The conclusion of John Adams on HBO. I could not resist sharing the irony I found in the final moments of that seven-part mini-series . . . and the trailer that immediately followed it:
This past week, I was contacted by a reporter from the Stockton Record. She interviewed me for a story about women here in California’s Central Valley who blog. She has also spoken with women in nearby Modesto and Stockton.
Among the questions she asked me: “How did you get started blogging? Why do you blog?” There is an ongoing dialogue about the “why” of blogging. In recent days, I’ve found myself considering that question again, but not only because of that interview.
The New York Times recently examined the plight of professional bloggers, reporting that two have died in the past few months and a third survived a December 2007 heart attack.
Is blogging for a living a new source of work-related maladies and associated claims for medical and other benefits?
Michael Arrington of Tech Crunch is quoted as having concluded that his work-at-home blogging lifestyle is “not sustainable.” He claims that blogging has caused him to gain thirty pounds in three years, develop a severe sleep disorder, and convert his home into an office accommodating four employees, the tacit implication being that the convergence of his home and business lives has been unsettling, at a minimum.
As I told the Record’s reporter, I blog strictly for enjoyment, stress release, insomnia. I have fun reading the work of other bloggers, studying their blog themes and templates for ideas about how to tweak mine, and thoroughly enjoy writing about topics unrelated to the issues I deal with in the course of earning a living. Those who choose to abandon traditional employment in favor of generating sufficient income to support themselves by blogging face the same issues vis a vis technology as those of us who toil in the corporate world or government, but the dangers are magnified, perhaps exponentially.
Even at established companies, the Internet has changed the nature of work, allowing people to set up virtual offices and work from anywhere at any time. That flexibility has a downside, in that workers are always a click away from the burdens of the office. For obsessive information workers, that can mean never leaving the house.
One of the biggest challenges is the 24/7 nature of the Internet and, hence, requirement that bloggers be perpetually available to write about and aware of recent news items and technological developments. Arrington says, “There’s no time ever — including when you’re sleeping — when you’re not worried about missing a story.”
A colleague recently told me about his Hawaiian vacation. Holding up his Blackberry — identical to mine — he said, “Hey, did you know that these work in Hawaii?” I chuckled and replied, “Well, mine worked in New York City last year. I left it in my hotel room during the day, but checked my office email each night when I returned from sightseeing, Broadway shows, etc. I absolutely refused to carry that thing around New York with me.”
“Well, when we got off the plane in Honolulu,” he continued, “I turned it back on and then told my wife, ‘Look, honey, it works here!’ Do you know what she said to me?”
“I have a pretty good idea, but tell me,” I responded.
“She said, ‘if you don’t turn it back off, you’re going to find out if it works from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.'”
We both laughed, but the point was clear: At some point, we all need to disconnect, relax, rest, and allow our minds to be refreshed.
How many years do you think these men will be able to maintain their lifestyles without suffering at least minor adverse impacts?
Matt Buchanan, 22, . . . works for clicks for Gizmodo, a popular Gawker Media site that publishes news about gadgets. Mr. Buchanan lives in a small apartment in Brooklyn, where his bedroom doubles as his office.
He says he sleeps about five hours a night and often does not have time to eat proper meals. But he does stay fueled — by regularly consuming a protein supplement mixed into coffee.
But make no mistake: Mr. Buchanan, a recent graduate of New York University, loves his job. He said he gets paid to write (he will not say how much) while interacting with readers in a global conversation about the latest and greatest products.
“The fact I have a few thousand people a day reading what I write — that’s kind of cool,” he said. And, yes, it is exhausting. Sometimes, he said, “I just want to lie down.”
Sometimes he does rest, inadvertently, falling asleep at the computer.
“If I don’t hear from him, I’ll think: Matt’s passed out again,” said Brian Lam, the editor of Gizmodo. “It’s happened four or five times.”
Mr. Lam, who as a manager has a substantially larger income, works even harder. He is known to pull all-nighters at his own home office in San Francisco — hours spent trying to keep his site organized and competitive.
Lam is praised for encouraging his blogging staff to “take breaks, even vacations.” What a great guy!
For the record, my Blackberry is programmed to automatically turn off at 11:00 p.m. each night and come back on at 7:00 a.m. If someone just has to reach me during those hours when it is powered down, they can do so the reliable, old-fashioned way: They can call me — on my “land line.”
Why do you blog? How many hours per week do you devote to blogging, reading other blogs or periodicals online, drafting documents, watching videos or using the computer for any other purpose? Are you perpetually connected or do you, as Mr. Lam suggests, “take breaks, even vacations?” How has being connected via technology impacted your life to date? And what steps are you taking to assure that you do not become a slave to or victim of our 24/7 culture?
Click here to read Part Four.
Friday’s Feast Special Edition
The questions this week are courtesy of Stone Girl at Musings of a Cynical Optimist.
What is your favourite vacation spot in the United States?
It might be a place I haven’t gone yet! Odds are it has a beach and I’m longing to return to Hawaii, but also have a long list of places I haven’t yet visited, but intend to, including Alaska.
1. I love springtime in Northern California.
2. Cranberry scones and cinnamon-raisin bagels are foods I love to eat for breakfast.
3. It seems I’m always searching for evidence — it’s an occupational hazard.
Last night over dinner, one of my oldest and dearest friends mentioned that she had spent some time yesterday writing a letter to her daughter who is attending college in the Midwest. She explained that she had found a beautiful card and decided to send it, accompanied by a letter.
I email regularly with her daughter, as does she, so I was intrigued.
“Really?” I said with surprise. “You sent her snail mail?”
“Yes,” she responded enthusiastically. “I want her to receive mail. You know . . . good, old fashioned mail. A letter.”
It seemed like a quaint idea to me.
I don’t know whether the forces of the universe conspire for the purpose of giving me material to write about here or if I am simply better some days than others at paying attention and gathering inspiration. I suspect it might be a combination of the two.
No matter because this past week, I have been attuned and given a lot of consideration to the manner in which we communicate with each other these days. More and more, I find that I impart information to others almost exclusively vie email.
Since In Treatment concluded, I have been enjoying John Adams on HBO. I highly recommend it. As I was watching the most recent installment a couple of nights ago, I was fascinated by the stretches of time that elapsed between major events because of how slowly information was communicated in those days.
A couple of scenes were particularly striking. In one, Abigail Adams, brilliantly portrayed by Laura Linney, was elated when she finally received a packet of letters from her husband who was away from her for long stretches of time throughout their marriage. In another scene, she arrived in Paris after a lengthy voyage from America, finally reunited with him after yet another separation that apparently spanned several years. They had to get reacquainted. She questioned why he did not write more often. The resulting exchange between the two characters was beautifully written and poignantly acted. As I watched, it occurred to me that the two characters not only spent endless months wondering about the well-being and activities of the other, but also did not hear each other’s voices at all during those long stretches of time spent apart.
Today, of course, we are all perpetually connected to each via available technology. To spend weeks, months or years not speaking to our loved ones would be unthinkable. We just pick up our cell phones or Blackberries and call, text or email each other throughout the day. Frequently, we do so multiple times throughout the day. We have videoconferencing capabilities so that we can see each other while situated on opposite sides of the world.
I remember the first time I ever owned stationery. It was scented and bore images of cute little skunks, along with the phrase “Here’s my five scents worth.” At the time, the cost of mailing a first class letter was five cents, so my grandmother also gave me stamps so that I could mail my letters to her.
When was the last time you sat down and wrote a letter to someone who is important to you? When was the last time you decided to pour out your feelings to someone by picking up a pen or pencil and committing your thoughts to paper in your own handwriting?
I can easily answer those questions: I can’t recall. I literally have no idea when I last wrote an actual message in my own hand expressing anything more significant than “happy birthday” or “my deepest condolences.” I’m sure that I must own some stationery, but without searching for it, I cannot describe it or recollect when I acquired it.
Business correspondence is even much rarer than just a few years ago. In that arena, email is also the primary means by which data is shared. I encourage everyone with whom I transact business to communicate with me via email, even to the point of scanning documents and sending them as .pdf files rather than faxing them. For at least a dozen or so years, my colleagues and I have emailed each other routinely throughout the work day, even though our respective offices are within a few feet of each other.
And my personal relationships are maintained almost exclusively via email. Each year, I send and receive fewer and fewer Christmas and other greeting cards, instead forwarding electronic messages. I have neighbors that I rarely see in person, but we email each other regularly, literally transmitting messages across the street to stay in touch. Hosting a party or other event? Gone, for the most part, are the days of visiting the local stationer to pick out just the right invitations. Instead, you can choose from a variety of software applications to issue the invitation and your guests can simply click to R.S.V.P. There’s no need for your invitees to make a phone call to report whether or not they will be in attendance.
For all the sophisticated technology readily available to us, do we really communicate our innermost thoughts and feelings with each other or have we devolved into simply exchanging bits of meaningless trivia on a constant, unending basis?
And what will be the long-term impact upon our psyches of being constantly bombarded with sounds and images since we are connected to each other all the time? We are living connected lives, but what is the quality of the connections? Will our connectedness ultimately be our undoing?
Click here to read Part Three.
1. Tonight I saw Oprah’s interview of Thomas Beatie, the transgendered man from Oregon who is now pregnant. What do you think about his decision to give birth to a child with his wife of five years, Nancy?
Photo from ABC News.
2. “Sway” by the Pussycat Dolls makes me wanna dance! (“Shall We Dance?” is one of my favorite movies. When Richard Gere comes up the escalator holding a single red rose for Susan Sarandon . . . I’m a goner.)
3. Splitting a few appetizers between friends on the patio, along with a fine glass of Lodi wine sounds like a great way to spend an evening.
Remember Lodi’s dancing pickle featured on Wordless Wednesday on February 26, 2008?
A couple of weeks ago, this blurb appeared in the Lodi News-Sentinel’s Cop Log:
A pickle — the dancing human kind who works for Mr. Pickle’s Sandwich Shop — was blocking traffic. An officer arrived and advised the pickle.
On Tuesday evening, as part of his regular feature, “Small Town News,” David Letterman read that entry on “The Late Show.” I was sitting here at my computer and, when I heard Letterman say “Lodi,” caught him read it and comment to Paul Schaffer, “You know, that probably happens more than we think. Cops advise pickles all the time.”
It was almost as exciting as the night the Lodi Grape Festival was featured on the Daily Show because the managers banned silly string along the annual parade’s route. The rationale? It interfered with and posed a danger to the Shriners who participated each year. A few years later, they discontinued the parade altogether.
That’s the latest from Livable, Lovable Lodi . . .