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The Blackberry Ashtray

Posted on: December 8th, 2009 by Mike Baumgartner

In the 1960's everybody smoked. It was everywhere. It was constant. It was sexy. Cigarettes had the best commercials, the finest jingles, the hottest ad girls. Every time I look back at the old 8mm movies of my childhood, I am stunned to find an ashtray with a thin trail of smoke rising from it in every picture.

I remember hearing a little girl cry out in pain once while I was in ZAYREs. She had reached up to hold her mother's hand and (as was the norm in that day) there was a cigarette in it. The girl had burned the palm of her hand while trying to touch her mommy. The mother attempted to console her little one and kiss the boo boo away, but the child was not only in pain, she was also very sad. You could see she was hurt beyond the burn in her hand. The last thing I remember her saying was "Mommy, why do you have to smoke?"

Today, if you placed an ashtray on a table in a restaurant the first question out of my child's mouth would be "What is that?”  Oh, how life has changed. The problem, however, is we have replaced one really bad and unhealthy habit with another. Some call it a Blackberry, an iPhone, or a smart phone, but whatever we call it, it's an addiction.

I had a dinner recently with executives from a California biotech company. They were discussing their strategies for keeping their jobs while keeping the family happy.  It all centered on their Blackberry and what this device was making them do. "I am at a restaurant when the damn thing goes off and I see my wife's expression. Her eyes tell the whole story. ‘If you stop our conversation to look at that phone, you will not live to see the morning.’” Another executive recounted how he sits in the car in his driveway to complete a business call rather than walk in the front door of his house and face the truth that the job just followed him home like a bad virus.

Vacations are becoming just as bad because there are very few companies who are fine with you leaving your Blackberry or laptop behind. You are expected to stay connected, respond, and (in case of business need) work. We have been conditioned to understand that if we are unwilling to work under these conditions, someone else will. So we stay connected and that connection has become an addiction. Now on every restaurant table I see iPhones, iPads, Blackberrys, and any number of tech toys to keep us linked….just not with the people we are having dinner with.

Last night my four year old started falling asleep on the couch. I carried him up to put him to bed. As I laid him down, my Blackberry started vibrating and, reflexively, I reached for it to see what was sent. I started typing a quick reply when a sleepy voice said, "Daddy, put your phone away.  It’s night time."  He reached up for my hand and I reflexively pulled it away so he would not hit the keys, messing up the half finished one line email I was about to send. The memory of the little girl with her burned hand came flooding back and the Blackberry went back in its holster. My son and I chatted a bit till he fell asleep and I wondered how much time he and I have missed because I needed by Blackberry fix.

I am sure in 20 years the smart phones and other tech gadgets will be as arcane as the ashtray on the restaurant table. At least today's addictions don't have second hand smoke (or so we think). This too will pass and some new addiction will come along to replace it. Maybe it will take a child to remind us of what is really …… wait, ….hold on, my Blackberry is buzzing.

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