A. Lin Neumann
My friends and colleagues know me as a compulsive BlackBerry guy. Ever since this technology came into my life as a virtual necessity inside the company I work for, I have not been able to stop playing with the thing.
I have been known to sit in really important meetings with really important people and look totally zoned out as I scan my email and answer a few BB messages. One colleague frequently takes me aside and tells me my behavior is rude and impolitic but I cannot seem to help it. It is an addiction. CrackBerry is right.
So imagine my panic when I went away on vacation over the holidays to Bangkok and discovered that the temporary SIM card I purchased would not register on my spiffy new BB Torch. It needed a password of some kind I could not locate so I took a deep breath in the taxi (yes, I was changing the SIM in the dark, in a taxi, just so I could get connected) on the way in from the airport and said, “I’ll deal with this thing tomorrow.”
Then a strange thing happened. The next morning, I started using a regular old cell phone I carry as a backup just for calls and text messages and let the BB issue ride for a day or two. I went for long walks with my wife and daughter, visited the obligatory Big Buddha, had lunches and dinners with old friends and, after a couple of days, realized I did not miss my BB. I actually lost my desire to check the Associated Press app for the latest news, scan email and confirm my existence by sending meaningless blather out over the BB messenger service.
A few days in, I noticed on a long walk with my young daughter in Bangkok’s Lumpini Park that the playground was a really fascinating place and that I could sit for a couple of hours and just watch her romp around. I felt no need to update my status message or seek out a BB friend. I did not care if the outside world was trying to get in touch.
Eventually, someone from the office sent me the necessary password I had asked for, but I let it ride. I also could have switched on data services for international roaming and paid an arm and a leg to get reconnected to the BB-sphere but I didn’t.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not a Luddite. I do not wish to go back to the rotary telephones and telex machines that we used to send stories to editors 30 years ago. I love the convenience and ease of finding information on the Web and being able to fact-check a story in an instant rather than having to go down to a library and search through stacks of files to find a birthdate or the correct spelling of some name. I adore the instant transmission of stories I write to a vast potential audience on the Internet.
Even during my vacation, I checked my email a couple of times a day, sent text messages and used the cell phone like anyone else. I have no desire to get off the grid or live in a cave.
But I have to vote with those who say enough is enough. During my two weeks of relative freedom, I came to think of that flashing red light blinking accusingly at me from atop my smartphone as something akin to one of those electronic ankle monitors worn by prisoners under house arrest. With this device in use, anyone, anytime can reach me. That is certainly one definition of prison.
Can I stay strong and resist going back to compulsive BB behavior now that the holidays are over and the bloody thing is switched on again? I am trying. I have started going to the occasional meeting without the phone, keeping it silent and turning it off for hours at a time. Life seems a little more peaceful as a result.
Academic studies have shown that smartphone addiction is a real problem, somewhat akin to alcoholism. So help me out. If you want to get in touch, send me an email.
I’ll get back to you later.
A. Lin Neumann is the founding editor of the Jakarta Globe; he is the host of Insight Indonesia, a talk show on BeritaSatu TV. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.