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THE UNCONNECTED MAN: YouTube is currently hosting a video clip from NBC’s Today show called “Grown Man Cries Over Not Having His Blackberry,” which features Dennis Kneale, the managing editor of Forbes magazine, trying – and failing – to spend a week without the internet, e-mail, cell phone and Blackberry he probably wouldn’t have needed to do his job as recently as ten years ago.
Because I’m a basically mean person, I thought it was a laugh riot – right up until the part, barely 40 hours into the experiment, when Kneale tearfully pleads to have his gizmos back on the verge of a two-day business trip to Colorado, where his 6-year-old daughter won’t be able to contact him without the cell phone whose number she’s memorized. As a father, I was able to share his pain – but it was still funny watching him try and cajole two bucks worth of quarters from a convenience store cashier, lose two in a broken public phone, then move on to another phone booth whose handset looked like it had been used to perform colonoscopies.
“Payphones are urinals,” Kneale insisted in an interview with Matt Lauer, the show’s host. I’m sure there are studies showing the slow disappearance of payphones from the streetscape, and while I’m sure they’ve never been oases of hygiene, their demotion to archaic status in the communications toolkit – like the watch that Kneale suddenly had to start carrying again - has definitely turned them into a combination of garbage can, urinal and unofficial advertising kiosk for the nightclub, porn site and escort service industries. (The payphone, not the watch – not my watch, at least.)
“When you cut off communication, you cut off connection,” Kneale told Lauer, since your friends, family and co-workers have come to rely on instant responses from you, and will feel slighted, even insulted, if it isn’t forthcoming. I didn’t get my first cell phone until less than two years ago, and spent every moment until then insisting that I didn’t like the things, didn’t want one, and would treat it as an emergency measure if I was forced to get one. It worked – my family and co-workers know that the phone is as likely to be off as much as on, and that it lives in a coat pocket most of the time, unanswered and ignored when I’m home or coatless.
My wife, a much nicer person than myself, was given a Blackberry for work, and seems to live in its orbit most of the time, even taking it on vacations – that’s what you get for being nice, responsible, and unwilling to let yourself be regarded as a barely functional sociopath these days. Kneale admitted to Lauer that he had anxiety attacks during his 40 tech-less hours, experiencing a tight chest and panic attacks, and hearing phantom rings from the phone that wasn’t there. He compared it to being a 4-year-old who’s lost their teddy bear, which was only a bit less humiliating than the crying, but nowhere near as mortifying as being mocked by Al Roker.