Crackberry habit? Blame it on Google

Last Saturday night I found myself at a party discussing whether the language of Slovakia is properly called Slovak or Slovakian. Within seconds, smart phones were whipped out and mobile browsers fired up. Yet it was a lower-tech person who beat us to the game, shouting out, “Erin, we need word help again.”

As it turns out, wireless browsers were no match for our hostess, Erin McKean, editor of the New Oxford American Dictionary. Pleasant as she always is, Erin sat down in front of her students, who eagerly awaited an academic explanation. When she too pulled out her Treo, our jaws dropped. “Slovak,” she informed us. “I have the whole dictionary downloaded on my phone.” (Search Engine = 0. Old-School Publication = 1.)

Being the Internet geeks that we are, the conversation suddenly turned to our wireless devices. We compared Lonne’s BlackBerry Pearl to Morgan’s classic BlackBerry, debated why Gmail won’t support its mobile app for my Treo, and gawked at Anil’s bizarre two-sided Samsung device that will someday belong in the Internet Museum. As if such cocktail conversation were not depressing enough, the debate quickly turned to last week’s BlackBerry outage.

In case you missed this, um, critical news, BlackBerry owners experienced a drop in service for about 12 hours, most of which was overnight. The news made headlines, and continued to do so throughout the weekend. What caused it? How can this be prevented? How did BlackBerry addicts work through the trauma?

Personally, I don’t mind minor technological glitches. Friday night, for example, Google decided to temporarily lock down my Gmail after an overzealous attempt to export my contacts with TrueSwitch. My initial frustration turned to sheer joy when I realized that this was the perfect excuse to disconnect. Note the use of the word “excuse.” Modern society certainly places a value on accessibility. Being accessible is good. Being inaccessible is bad. This is why we receive inane out-of-office reminders that read “I will be out of the office from 10:00 a.m. through 11:45 a.m. If this is an emergency, please text me, call me, send me an instant message or send a smoke signal.”

So I have to ask: At what point did the same technology that allows us to access information on our own terms turn on us, so that we are now accessible on other people’s terms? Is it possible that we have become so conditioned to receiving an immediate response from Google and the likes that we expect live humans to behave the same?

No wonder I often feel like I am drowning. I’m no match for an algorithm.

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