On Topic: Smartphones bring immediacy, but dampen anticipation

Michael Chevy Castranova
Published: September 29 2013 | 5:00 am - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 9:05 pm in

The tumult began long before we got to the wedding.

To be fair, the bride-to-be did warn all the guests about a month ahead of event that there were no phones in the resort cabins where we’d be staying, up in the scenic mountains north of Santa Barbara, Calif.

What few of us realized until got there was that there was no phone reception, period.

Throughout the long weekend we saw people out on the long dirt paths yelling into their cellphones, “Hello? Hello?,” cursing, then shaking the phones as if the things were Magic 8 Balls and their owners thought they might coerce a better response out of them.

Oh, how we modern folk do not like it when we cannot get immediate gratification.

We tell ourselves that to be at the top of our game today we absolutely need to possess and be conversant with the latest means of communication. And I confess, I have succumbed.

Hi, my name is Michael, and I own a smartphone.

The thing is, my wife needed one — no, she really did, for her job — and she got this price break with her current plan. As part of the deal, the company tossed in a second phone for merely an additional small fortune.

So I dumped the brick I’d been hauling around for far-too-many years and began using this slender, shiny new phone.

Though, truth be told, it’s become more of an appendage than an occasional tool. It even has its own — well, holster, I don’t know what else to call it.

And with this nearly instantaneous connection to each and every phone call, email and text message — along with at-our-fingertips access to the Internet, stock reports, music and movies, the weather, maps, games, photos of our grandparents, images from Mars and myriad other forms of information with declining degrees of significance to what we’re supposed to be doing right now, anyway — we’ve lost that sly pleasure that comes from anticipation.

Surely I’m not the only one who previously used email and the Internet as a form of reward: OK, I’ll finish editing this story or hunting for that Reuters photo first, then I’ll quick-like-a-bunny check to see if I’ve received an email response about that book I ordered eons ago, or glance at Facebook to see what sort of comments I’ve picked up from last Sunday’s column. (“There you go again, if you really knew a blessed thing at all about economics, you’d surely agree with me that … .”)

But with these fancy-schmancy new smartphones, I already know whether I have mail, a text or a phone call. The thing blurts that out right smack the instant they come in, with a beep or a swoosh or a burst from the Benny Goodman Orchestra kicking off a frenzied “Sing, Sing, Sing.”

It’s a trade-off, I suppose. More connection and reacting, less contemplating.

See, it’s like this … oh, wait, that’s my phone. Hold on a moment, I’ll be right back … .

Editor’s note: Starting next Sunday, Business 380 Sunday will be part of a new project headed by this company’s CEO, Chuck Peters. I will be moving over to edit the front news pages for Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. To all who took the time to read “On Topic” during the past two and a half year, thank you. I’ve been lucky to have you.

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