It would be ruder if I didn’t
Kevin Drum and Andrew Sullivan think that checking one’s phone in the presence of friends is rude, with Drum in particular chalking this up to his and Sullivan’s advanced age compared to those disrespectful youngsters . And that’s their right, I suppose. In my personal experience, however, they’re as wrong as wrong can be, and I attribute our different attitudes to our difference in professions rather than in age. In short, Drum and Sullivan are professional bloggers, while I on the other hand have clients.
To explain I’ll have to delve into my work history a little bit. I’m an e-discovery professional, and I’ve worked previously at a law firm but currently work for a vendor. When I worked for the firm, I didn’t have access to email on my phone, and my ability to work from home was hampered by the technology available (at that time a very subpar VPN hookup). While this might be a fine setup for a federal employee who lives the 9 to 5 life, I was still receiving and expected to answer client and attorney requests at all hours. This meant I was spending a lot of time at the office. I frequently stayed past 10 PM on weeknights and would regularly work at least one full day on the weekends. Obviously, my social life suffered.
When I started working for a vendor, the first thing my company did was pay for a smartphone with an unlimited data plan. Now I check email from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to bed, and of course I check it when I’m out to dinner with friends. I’m in the office whenever I feel like it, and never come in on weekends. Anything I need to do can be done on any computer with an internet connection, as all our work is on virtual machines. I’m the guy at the party constantly checking my phone, but at least I’m at the party.
In essence, I’ve exchanged a tether to the office for a tether to my mobile phone, and I fail to see how that’s not an upgrade. The choice I face is not between checking or not checking my phone, it’s between checking my phone and not having a social life at all. I get to see my friends without worrying about what I’m missing at work, and my co-workers and clients can get a hold of me in a timely manner and not feel like they’re dominating my life. My friends and my job are no longer in direct competition with one another for my time.
While I’m sure it’s part of it, I don’t think age fully explains for the difference in opinion. After all, my teacher and federal worker friends (all in their late 20′s/early 30′s) all feel the same way as Drum and Sullivan. But of course, principals don’t expect to reach their teachers at 11 at night, nor will editors miss a federal court deadline if their writers aren’t available to answer a question. Client services is a 24 hour a day business, and people outside the field simply don’t understand how freeing and valuable it is to be able to carry around connectivity in your pocket.
I am going to check email at dinner, and if that makes me rude, so be it. But I’d rather be rude than be an office-bound hermit