Smartphone says, “Now!”

March 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

I received an e-mail yesterday. An e-mail that promised a pretty great opportunity for an aspiring radio producer such as myself. However, it was sent at 4.30pm on a Sunday afternoon and I didn’t read it until midnight. This wouldn’t have been a problem except the e-mail asked whether I’d possibly be able to do some recording work on Monday.

As in today.

As in a few short hours after the e-mail was sent.

The writer acknowledged the late notice, and truth be told, I wasn’t the first person approached for the gig, but I was still – dare I say it? – taken aback at how soon my services would be required. Is this the expectation now in the time of smartphones? That we’re all in a constant “online” state and available to respond to these requests as soon as they arrive in our inboxes?

I was a little late to the smartphone party. I got my first iPhone less than a month ago and I’m still getting a handle on what it can do. I haven’t even sorted out my voicemail yet. My old phone couldn’t access the internet. I used it for calls and texts and that was it. To have my whole online life in my pocket is a huge jump for me and requires some adjustment.

I understand that this particular e-mail was probably sent with crossed fingers, but I can’t help but wonder whether I’m out of touch. Maybe it’s my role as a young person, as a person with an e-mail address, as a smartphone owner, as a person working within the media industry to always be plugged in. Maybe my personal time is not my own anymore because it will result in missed opportunities.

The media industry is built on deadlines and the constant pressure to be relevant. It’s also highly competitive. If I’m not available for something, there are many others who will step up and take my place. While I’m in such a fragile, early stage of my career, it seems that I do have to be constantly on call and available. The idea of which I kind of hate, but that’s the nature of the ballgame, I suppose.

The expectation seems to be that if someone can be contacted, they are available; an expectation hardly unique to the media industry. Every few months there seems to be a story in some magazine or other about how increasingly difficult it is for professionals to switch off. If we do, we know that there’s a possibility we will miss something. But miss what? Surely, nothing’s that important.

As of September 2011, Australia has the second highest smartphone penetration in the world with 37%, according to this Sydney Morning Herald article and I can only assume that number has increased since. With nearly half (probably more) of mobile users “online”, there has been a shift insofar as when we think we can contact people and what we can ask of them. I’ve been guilty of that. I’m often surprised by how long it might take someone to respond to one of my text messages or e-mails. Surely, their phone is right next to them? Then there is the pressure, when information moves so fast, to always be on top of it, especially when doing otherwise runs the risk of missing out on opportunities like the one that came in yesterday’s e-mail.

I wish I was more comfortable just shrugging my shoulders and saying, “Oh well” as another opportunity passes me by, confident in the knowledge that something else will come along eventually, but I’m not. Eventually is too vague. I like now. And so, I’m stuck “on call”.

I like to hope that one day I will be in the privileged position of feeling I can switch off and let it all wait until Monday. Until then, keep the e-mails coming.

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