I had lunch downtown with a friend the other day. As we settled into our seats, he took his cellular phone out of his pocket and set it on the table. Just as we began to talk, the thing let out a little "bleep." He looked down at it and said, "Voicemail. I'll check it later."
A few moments later, the phone buzzed and vibrated. "Text message," my friend said. "I'll check it later." As we talked, his phone continued to try to communicate with him with a series of blurps, blips, and buzzes. He'd look down and check the screen with every noise. "E-mail from my son," he'd say. Or, "That's the office. I better take it." The latter was (gasp) an actual phone call.
My cell phone is a primitive model, no e-mail or Internet connections — and I'm not a texting kind of guy. But I am on a laptop all day. When I get an e-mail, a little envelope icon starts bouncing at the bottom of the screen. If one of my favorite websites is updated, I get a notice. More often than not, I'll stop what I'm doing and check out the alerts.
Our connections to the world at large have become instantaneous and have thoroughly transformed the way we work and interact. Much of this is good. I can't imagine, for example, having a teenager these days without being able to track them down via their cell phone.
And this interconnectedness is invaluable in my work. A couple weeks ago, I was editing a column that referenced General Custer's last stand at Little Big Horn. I needed to know how many men were killed with Custer, so I went to Wikipedia and, voila, there was the entire saga of the battle, complete with maps, a timeline, etc. Ten years ago, I would have had to go to an encyclopedia or called the library.
But there's a downside to this instant research capability. In this instance, I became fascinated — and diverted from my original task — by the article. An hour later, I was so well-informed about Little Big Horn, I could have given a lecture on the subject. Meanwhile, the article I was originally editing took an hour longer to turn over to the design department. So there's a trade-off here. Learning and communicating with others has never been easier. Staying focused on the task at hand — or a simple conversation — has never been more difficult.
Oh would some power the giftie gie us, to see ourselves as others see us. — Robert Burns
Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote the line above in response to seeing a louse on a high-born lady's bonnet at church. The point being, of course, that while we might think we're looking pretty good, someone else might be noticing a flaw we've overlooked.
It's deep in a November night in Memphis, and I'm awakened by rain. It's coming down hard, sounding like a million pebbles hitting the roof. The gutter I've been meaning to clean is overflowing outside the bedroom window. A flash of lightning illuminates the room, and I do what I've done since I was a boy: count the seconds 'til the thunder rolls. I get almost to 10 before I hear a distant rumble. Two miles or so. Someone else's lightning ...
A couple weeks ago in this space, I jokingly wrote that Memphis Airport Authority head Jack Sammons had agreed to become the executive editor of the Flyer. At least, I thought I was joking ...
(such a sky and such a sun
i never knew and neither did you
and everybody never breathed
quite so many kinds of yes) — e. e. cummings