I was chatting with a few people I'd just met at a holiday cocktail party Friday night, trying to do the infamous appetizer-plate-and-drink-glass balancing act, when one of them starts bemoaning his BlackBerry balancing act. He can never get away from work when he's home, he says, because he always has his BlackBerry.You've seen them, bowed over their BlackBerrys or similar devices on subways and in conference rooms. Maybe you're one of them. Their shirt collars are almost always white, but there's going to be a lot more variety: T-shirts, polo shirts, brown, purple, pink, and of course, blue-collared shirts. A new forecast by Radicati Group calls for 123 million people worldwide to be using PDAs, cell phones, and other handheld devices to get E-mail by 2009, up from 6.5 million people doing that today. (See InformationWeek magazine's cover story this week, Everyone Wants One. It's the issue with King Kong using his PDA on the cover. Even big, hairy creatures can't resist the lure.) As our story examines, the rapid growth of mobile E-mail raises a lot of issues for businesses, including data security, IT infrastructure upgrades, and even potential productivity drains.
But let's not forget the personal drains, the ones that hinder our ability to be valuable and happy employees, managers, spouses, partners, parents. So-called CrackBerry addicts think they need to have the devices on at 10 p.m. every night, but do their managers and colleagues expect that type of 24-hour availability? Highly unlikely, unless you really are on call. Remember one of the signs of addiction: blaming someone else (like your boss's imagined demands) for your problems.
But the culprit here really isn't PDAs. The drug that has everyone so frenetic is E-mail; PDAs and smartphones simply administer it. They're quicker than laptops and desktops-kind of like the speed a syringe has over a pill. And we all have some of that E-mail addiction in us. I don't have a PDA, but I find at some point in the night I have to turn off my laptop to stop the obsessive-compulsive habit I have of checking for new E-mail. Let it go, already.
Why do we do this to ourselves? My guess is that in our high-pressure, lean-and-nimble work cultures, combined with the desire to be the best, the brightest, the quickest, the most responsive, we just can't bring ourselves to let go.
Don't get me wrong-I'm sure there'll be a day when I'm regularly checking E-mail from some cell-phone hybrid device, and I'll find a lot of value in it, too...if you're offsite at meetings all day, for example, checking voicemail sometimes isn't enough. You want to quickly respond to important E-mails from coworkers instead of waiting until you're back at your desk at night and they've gone home. The more connected we can stay, the more nimble and responsive we are, and the more effective we can be, right?
But before we're all doing mobile E-mail, as a nation we may need to set up some best practices. That would include the questions, "Do you really need to be checking your E-mail right now? Would checking it prevent you from doing something else you should be doing, like meeting new business prospects face-to-face, spending time on that valuable project you've been putting off, spending time with your family or, for heaven's sake, driving? I can see the headline now: "Rise In Car Crash Fatalities Linked To Motorists Checking E-mail." Or, even worse than someone standing in front of the cold case of ice cream asking his wife which flavor to bring home: shoppers walking down the aisles, tumbling over product displays because their eyeballs are glued to their PDA screens.
E-mail is a great complement to our lives, but please, folks, lets keep it that way, a complement. Let's not allow it be the focus. So put down your BlackBerry, hug your kid or take a walk, and have a happy holiday season.