Travels with the iLeash: A Meditation on Communication

This past June was the first time I have gone to Europe with an iLeash (smart phone). It would have been better if I’d left it at home. Not because of cost, since my carrier is DeutscheTelekom, so there are no roaming or other fees aside from the usual data cap type stuff, and that includes calls from there to the US and vice versa. Although the wrong number that called from Pittsburg PA at 0200 German Daylight Time probably wondered what the h-ll happened, since I answered in German. No, it’s because of internet.

Having internet access was a bad idea, at least for me. Granted, it allowed me to free comments from moderation since WP failed to close comments like I told it to do. But I spent time on the ‘Net when I should have been reading, or watching more German news, or doing more map-work. It is an addiction, and one I am aware of, and that I really need to wean myself from. Usually going to Europe is good for that. But now I have the iLeash, and I was expected to have it on and to be available (i.e. answer texts and calls).

It is becoming difficult to be disconnected. Other people become irritated and a bit angry when I don’t answer texts or calls instantly. This does not include people who know my schedule and know I can’t get back to them until I’m done with Day Job for the day, but other people. “I texted you four hours ago!”

But I was at work and I have to turn my phone off when I’m at work.

“But its me, and this is important.”

No, it’s not. But it feels like it should be, because of instant communications. The pace has picked up, and it seems as if the urgency has increased as well. But which is more important? A text or cell-call, or face-to-face communications and discussions? I was taught that the live person in front of you gets priority, but that appears no longer to be true. The text, or ‘Net video, or phone call overrides actually talking to the clerk, or the waiter, or the person you are scheduled to meet with. Some people assume I can stop teaching class to reply to a call. No. Likewise when I’m translating something for someone, that takes priority over any text or call.

Why is the call more important than the live person? Especially if it is a purely social chat, like so many I’m forced to overhear. Is it because we have grown uncomfortable with live interactions and communications, uncertain how to handle people’s actions and reactions when they are there, looking at us, waiting for us to reply or to ask or to do? Is it because we have control over the phone and the text, we can bluff and pretend and hang up or put the phone away if we don’t want to deal with a situation anymore? Or because there are fewer layers of communication with phone and text, no reading body language, no coping with someone else’s unpredictable reaction? Or just selfishness, because our personal conversation is far more interesting and important than the person trying to help us shop for an item or pay for our coffee.

I can sort of understand people who fixate on the ‘Net and texting because they can’t read people and fear the uncontrollable world. I’m an introvert, I love to be in control of the situation, and appreciate the ability to hide. But I also know that the world is going to find me. And that spending my life head-down glued to a screen is a good way to get mugged, literally as well as metaphorically. I’d make a wonderful hermit right up to the point where I went off the deep end because of the lack of grounding human contact.

In all fairness, I am biased. I realized twenty years ago that I am very, very easily addicted to repetitive visual stimuli, like computer solitaire and Tetris™. I have to be wary of games and certain web-sites because I find myself becoming hooked. Strangely, I can’t do first-person games or anything with explosions because I get terrible head-aches and become queasy. It is probably related to my visual problems (astigmatism), but it does keep me away from 99.9% of on-line and stand-alone computer games. And anything with shaky-cam.

At the moment, depending on LibertyCon and Life, there are tentative plans for me to go with my folks to Germany next year. If I go, I think I’m going to get one of those pouches that blocks cell and ‘Net function and lock the iLeash in it aside from those times when I truly need to be available (like when they go one place, I go another, and we meet at a third.) Having the iLeash hurt my productivity and really cut down the pleasures of the trip. And I suspect, although I may just be Odd, that if you were to force everyone to down their phones and go without the ‘Net for a day or two, a goodly number of people might be rather relieved. And others would be quite surprised that the world does not end just because no one was texting or calling or hanging out on social media.

I’m not against the iLeash or the ‘Net per se. But I am greatly concerned by how people are reacting to them, and how they seem to get in the way of communication and social interaction as often as they make communication easier. What’s the solution? I don’t know.

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11 thoughts on “Travels with the iLeash: A Meditation on Communication

  1. I nearly broke some young fellows brain when I explained that family had gone for years without a phone at home – in the pre-cell days. And this past weekend I went to a place (a little renfaire truly in Nowhere, Middle of) where there was NO cell coverage. I told some co-workers I going to such a place… and was much-envied.

    ’twas a great weekend. Good weather. Good company. Good beer (local only). And no interruptions.

  2. I put my phone on Airplane mode when I don’t want to be disturbed, and also when I’m in a place with intermittent cell coverage when searching for signal would drain my battery quickly.
    Of course, I’m still using a 5 year old smart phone with a real keyboard, so the battery never last that long. I find I use it less than I used since apps take a long time to load (that is, if they load at all – an increasing number refuse to work with that old of an operating system).
    I am purposefully trying to use it less and am practicing lower tech skills, like refreshing my paper map navigation skills.

    • I’ve never understood the purpose of airplane mode myself, I just turn it off if I don’t want to recieve calls or texts and that saves the battery a lot more than airplane mode. Okay I can see the point of putting it on airplane mode if you are going to let your toddler play with it, so they don’t accidentally call somebody, but then it boggles my mind that people actually give a little kid their phone as a toy. To me it isn’t a toy but a communication device.

      • Lots of people have apps on their “smart” phones. There are games to keep children (and adults) occupied. Some have ebook software and use them to read stories. Some people use the the camera feature to take a few photos, or review photos from a recent trip. Or just to check the time. My watch/band broke while hiking in 2008 and I never got a replacement, since I had the phone on my person nearly all the time.

  3. I have only begun packing my phone on my person in the last few months, I needed to have it in order to be available for a while this winter, and got into the habit of sticking it in the side pocket of my carhartts or a shirtpocket. But am probably going to wean myself of the habit (I still take it out of my pocket if I remember before going into stores, etc.) and it will once more reside either in whatever vehicle I am currently driving, or on my coffee table. I have a smartphone, but it is a Blackberry for two reasons, one I have had great success with them and two I despise touchscreens and wanted a keypad. Unfortunately the last one I got (the previous one lasted my 8 years and still worked except the trackball wore out and quit working) does have a touchscreen, you can’t get anything without one these days, it seems like, but at least it does have a keypad so the only time I have to deal with the touchscreen is when it is accidentally touched. I think I’ve gotten on the internet about twice with my phone, and one of those times was just to test that it worked. I have a computer with an actual real sized screen to look at stuff and a real sized keyboard to type on if I want to get on the internet.

    • Once I got on the ‘Net and checked e-mail, then I had to get into the blog to free a comment from moderation (and discovered that comments were still open. Arrrgh). And that’s when my addiction problem kicked in, because then I started looking at other blogs, and checking the US news, and looking at weather forecasts, and… Not a good thing.

  4. Having been on a ‘leash’ of one form or another since 1973, it was with GREAT glee that I turned the last torture device back in last year when I retired. Yes, I have a smart phone, but I can, and often do go the entire day without even looking at it. I just don’t care to play the now, now, now games…

  5. A few months ago, Scott Adams noted that the Phone Companies do a lot of marketing which seems to encourage addiction.
    My brother insists that I should replace my old flip-style phone with a “smart phone,” and in reply I demand to know how my life would be improved by having the entire Internet in my pocket all day long.
    No answer to that one….
    I do Altogether Too Much reading online every evening, anyway!….

  6. When I first deployed as a 2nd Lt to Saudi Arabia in 1983, it felt like I was really going to a different world, completely separate from this one. Even though we were actually in a city (Riyadh) where we could go downtown, eat in restaurants, take the bus, shop, get run over in traffic, etc, the connection to home was very limited – one morale call home per week via satellite phone full of echoes, and the weekly rotator aircraft from the home base brought mail and boxes of cookies from wives/girlfriends/comrades at home, and it took our mail (answering the letters from the previous week) back with it. I really felt I was disconnected from my previous environment.

    My last deployment to UAE in 2002 was to a technically more austere location — it was a tent city in the desert — but the first thing I did after dumping my stuff in my tent was go to my desk in the HQ building and send an email to my wife letting her know I arrived safely. Had email communication with her daily, and I could talk directly to her if I wanted with the cell phone I was issued (OK for limited morale purposes, try not to abuse it). We watched the floods in San Antonio (a lot of us in the unit were from Texas) on live TV in the chow hall. I felt much more connected to the US and home living out in the desert than living in the city 19 years earlier.

  7. I’m a prime offender.
    Having the internet in my pocket is not good for me. The least little musing will be interrupted by, “why don’t I just look it up?” And once I do, there’s a good chunk of the world’s knowledge there at my fingertips…

    There’s a reason I didn’t get a cell until my wife forced the issue several years ago.
    I should go back to having just a basic cell phone, but the damnable thing is comforting. It’s a soma autoinjector combined with peril sensitive sunglasses.

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