Monday, November 16, 2009

Blackberry Way

The voice coming through the public address system is honey-toned, calm and reassuring.

‘Ladies and Gentlemen, my name is Silk and I’m your senior cabin-attendant this afternoon. The Captain has advised, due to severe weather conditions at our destination, that we will be remaining on the ground for…’

Here, the amateur-thespian within the afore-mentioned 'Silk' inserts a melodramatic pause; the drama ahead clearly to be played out to the maximum. Part-repeating herself, she continues: ‘We shall be remaining on the ground for a further fifty-one minutes.’

Another farcical pause ensues – presumably to allow us all time to admire Captain Fantastic’s stop-watch precision regarding the hold-up – before her pearly-dew-drop-vocal chords announces that ‘due to statutory regulations’ no ‘refreshments’ will be served during the enforced wait to become airborne but…

‘For those of you who have cellular devices, feel free to use them at this time.’

The elation felt within seat 24D is palpable.

Across the aisle to my left, the lady occupying the window seat is first out of the traps… within moments she’s loudly engaged in discussing a recent appendectomy in all its most delicate detail.

Other ‘phones further up-front squawk into life; within this enclosed space, a cacophony of personalised ring-tones abounds… ranging from Celine Dion trilling a chorus to one of her songs (a perennial favourite of mine) to the sound of a cat miaowing…

The man of middle-age at eleven o’clock (tick tock) of me, meaning he’s occupying seat 23C, ingratiatingly announces himself as Howard to the small child seated across the aisle from him and, thus directly in front of me.

The child makes no response so the mother, seated next to her, informs Howard – in an equally booming voice – that said four year old is known by the unlikely name of… Madison.

Doubtless the parents were of Posh / Becks persuasion – naming their offspring from where the child was conceived… which’d mean nooky was conducted in either the boon-docks of Madison, Wisconsin or somewhere along Madison Avenue, NYC.

Madison’s father is seated immediately across the aisle to my left. He has been forcibly placed there by the voluble mother who has forcefully informed the woman chattering gaily about the appendectomy that he (that’s how she refers to her husband) has to sit next to an ancient lady who’s make-up style has been derived from the Bette Davis school; all plucked eyebrows and severity of lip-line. As appendectomy-lady moved seat, the Bette Davis look-a-like turned a strange shade of orange, looking like she may expire any moment.

Madison herself, however, proves not terribly talkative so Howard unrolls his laptop and starts editing what I presume to be a speech he’ll be giving in the next few days: glancing down the aisle, I can’t help but notice that he seems to be a leading expert in the effects of Methane production in animals.

Meanwhile, the appendectomic conversation three seats and an aisle away from me has reached a crescendo of intimacy – signalling it is time to retreat under the noise-abating headphones and get back to my book; a fabulous yarn called Requiem concerning the end of The Crusades and Edward Longshanks war on Scotland and William Wallace in particular thereby tickling all of my Mediaeval leanings.

However, the next page-turn leads me into a sombre dissertation on the precise levels of pain that a prisoner banged up in the Tower of London would undergo in 13th century England when sentenced to being hung, drawn and then… quartered.

Mediaeval agony or modern day aural torture – time to unfurl the trusted i-Touch and lurch into a tune-shuffled world of my own; one that’s not peopled by bloody Celine Dion ring-tones – a smattering of operatic choruses before Massenet’s exquisite Meditation of Thais cuddles up neatly to some of Malcolm MacLaren’s sadly-unheralded ambient musings that dovetail tidily into The Maps’ own quasi-Icelandic ambionic delights.

Which all goes swimmingly until a larger than life figure hoves into view, waddling up the aisle – her posterior (which is the size of Bermuda) brushing each arm-rest at the same time - while her lips have been not only rouged but glossed into an unlikely shade of crimson, one that my Dad would have described as being the colour of a Baboon’s arse. Her eye-make-up is synchronised to a rather fetching shade of powder-blue.

The name on her lapel reads… Silk… and I’m informed that, since we’re about to get airborne, I have to unplug.

As we bump, bore and claw our way upwards, my own musings lead me to thinking about this emerging cellular-device-dominated generation.


Lets just imagine that one is pretty high up the food chain in corporation X and been working like the proverbial for the preceding Y months – putting in a heck of a lot of long, seriously stressful, hours and therefore badly in need of a break; a few days away from the hurly-burly and the inherent pressures of modern-day commercial life.

Time away to recharge the batteries with a spot of good, old fashioned, R+R somewhere warm, tinged by palm-trees, fabulous food and beautiful sunsets.

Everyone at your office knows you’re off on a short holiday; one’s in-bound email alert has been set to something along the lines of: ‘I’m away from my desk until such and such a date and will respond to you at that point.’

Cases have been packed and re-packed; swimmies and sun-cream are to hand, the far horizon beckons.

So far, so splendid.

However… such is the dominance of the Blackberry / i-Phone / HTC / Palm – take your pick… it means that, however one wants or tries to unwind – nowadays, its harder than ever.

Because… the time to chill-out and switch-off in this cellular-device-led age has been set by the bullying bosses and un-thinking power-brokers… to… zero.

And, man / woman management is in crisis-mode.

Harsh economic times mean jobs are at a premium equals bosses have become empowered by… fear.

In any situation you can conceive, look around you… people are checking their mobile e-mail. From lifts (elevators) to the beach; from restaurants to dinner at home; from the back of a taxi to a ‘plane just landed. Shopping and what happens.. one constantly collides with militant mothers weaving from one aisle to another, their eyes diverted to the small screen. In any municipal park you can think of... Paris, London, Cairo, New York, Cape Town or Melbourne... joggers are jogging and runners are running but... next time you're out and about viewing the self-same, just have a look to see how many stop to check... their mail.


Our new economic, mass-communication-led, culture has bred a work-ethic of fear of being out of touch.

And an even worse fear of... not being seen as ‘available’ twenty-four hours a day.

Both are pressure-fears of ‘if I’m not then person X might be’ which equals… the bosses know you’re cornered, therefore they – unthinkingly and entirely unreasonably – believe they own you and your time.

No matter that one’s in-bound e-mail alert has been set as it has – messages (no matter how trivial) still keep popping up.

No matter that one is attempting to enjoy the pleasures of a pair of dolphins frolicking under a tropical sunset, there is always someone trying to reach you – most often on a inconsequential issue that can, quite properly, be solved / sorted out on one’s return.

No matter that human nature dictates that any person needs to recharge overwrought life-batteries, work in the 24 hour-a-day, 21st Century now has assumed a level of self-righteous importance whereby bosses (surreptitiously) demand that one keeps in touch.

As handy a device as the crackle-berry or its many variants are, its building a culture that is slowly but definitely signalling the end of an epoch.

And, in this Voltaire from its position on the windswept prairie’s view… its ushering in an era that is unbalanced.

Mass-communication is absolutely brilliant but it should never, ever, result in dis-respect.

Lest we forget.


Anonymous said...

Came across this blog by chance.

You're soooo right... nowadays, I couldn't be without my own Blackberry but... the intrusive nature of people who feel that you have to be in touch - the entire time - drives me nuts.

Well made points and about time someone said something on the matter.

Martin, London SE1

Fifi Dessein said...

BOSTON (WBZ) ― President Barack Obama has insisted on being the first president with a Blackberry, some are questioning whether it's a healthy choice.

We've all heard the term, "crackberry", referring to the gadget's addictive qualities.

One study, authored by professors at M.I.T.'s Sloan School of Management, found too much Blackberry use can cause serious stress.

"It's very helpful for getting information quickly and getting the ball rolling for things," says Melissa Mazmanian, a researcher for the study. "But sometimes you need to think about stuff at work and it doesn't always lend itself to real reflection if you know that someone's waiting for your answer."

As a result of the MIT studies, some companies are looking at forcing employees to take breaks from their blackberries at certain times of the day, possibly to turn them off or put them in a box. But Mazmanian says the addiction is so strong that no company has been able to do that yet.

As for Obama, she says it probably won't hurt his ability to govern, "As long as he is able to distance himself enough to make clear, reflective, thoughtful decisions, which he obviously seems to be a very capable man...I don't know the effect it's going to have, or it's currently having on his family life."

Drew said...

And if a cunning pride of predatory big cats could be 'switched-on', belling eachother as to the presence of some unwitting prey across the prairie, then surely they would be.
Such is the nature of corporate consumerist stage which demands the 24-7 availability.

Anonymous said...

All so true. And, the saddest thing of all - over-reliance on a device like the Blackberry (or i-Phone etc etc)is also rendering the art of conversation between individuals near as dammit null and void.

As to the fear factor - quite correct; I've witnessed that in the company for whom I work.

Jonathan Belling

Anonymous said...

It is important that you have highlighted the fear factor felt by workers within your blog.

That is something that my colleagues and I regularly face.

Jo Brown, Boston.

Drew (again) said...

Another angle to the whole constantly 'on-message' phenomenon is that of the individual who, whilst actually pretty small-beer in the great scheme of things, has his or her vanity massaged hugely by being expected to be eternally contactable.
There is, in the French village where I live, an English chap whom I find as palatable as cat-food on toast. School-gates, boulangerie, he doesn't care. He'll answer that phone and talk big and loud.
He's also a great practitioner of the 'competetive dad' syndrome, and when this is combined with his love of being 'reachable', the results are pretty excruciating.
When his twin sons are playing soccer for the village team, as my son does, his most embarrassing habit is that of scolding his sons, from the touchline, for a missed opportunity at tackle or goal. His phone is wont to shrill out at least once during a match, whereupon he is both rude to his sons and the caller, repeatedly breaking-off from one to shout at the other. The most telling demonstration of how a call such as this has massaged his ego is when he finally ends it, turns to the nearest fellow dad watching his offspring and says, "The London office!", coupled with the eyes-to-the-sky bluff inconvenience. They look quizically on whilst he returns to his duty of forcibly pushing his sons to sporting levels which he was never quite able enough to achieve.

Anonymous said...

Hey, you must be a Brit, right?

Don't matter much, as agree totally with what you said about people being distracted by 'phones (and, no, I wouldn't be without my Blackberry either)... but - try this for size, was in my local Whole Foods recently and a man had to be interupted by the teller and asked to sign his credit card receipt at the register because he was too intent on picking up his emails and, in doing so, was holding up the line.

Maybe you should start a list on these sort of annoying occurences?

Bill E. Schwarz, Naples FL

Anonymous said...

You seem to have struck a chord today, Neil!

The usual mix of witty observation and informed comment.

Weird as this may be, the same thing happened to me a few days ago (ref Bill in Florida) at my local food-store.

Its infuriating.

JD, Baltimore.

Anonymous said...

We live in a society plagued by people with no manners.

I would rather face my daily commute into London, hemmed in and standing in the 'quiet' carriage than endure those who choose to shout at their correspondents in other carriages.

Blackberrys and IPhones should be issued with an etiquette leaflet as standard.

Brian Stevens, Hertfordshire, England.