October 27, 2008

Minimizing Real-Life NMIs

Filed under: Uncategorized — numist @ 5:38 am

So, I spent some time two weeks ago with Rasmus Lerdorf (of PHP fame) as he was at UCSD as part of Yahoo!’s Hack Day competition. He was straightforward, even-keeled, smart, and honourable. One thing that stood out in our interactions was people’s reaction to him not carrying a phone (shock, awe, ponderings as to how he lives his life were common responses). When asked why he opposed mobile phones (over and over), his answer was invariably that he didn’t like the idea of being at someone else’s beck and call, which is what a cell phone enables.

And I have to say that I understand his sentiment, but don’t agree with the result. I never want to work a job where I’m on call at odd hours on odd days, but I have a phone, and think it’s brilliant. What’s the difference? Sometimes I do like being available, and when I don’t, I switch the phone to silent, which (for me) includes disabling the vibrator (making calls, SMS, and email truly non-interrupting).

So, I still don’t quite understand why you wouldn’t have a phone when it lets you call out at any time and add internet access to your mobile life, while allowing you to passively reject incoming calls, other than ethical objections to the telecommunicatins companies (a very valid objection. in the timeless words of ozzloy: “How is this legal?”).

Anyway, it was great meeting you guys, and I hope we meet again soon.



  1. Speaking as something of an old timer here… having gone through the technical spin cycle a few times, what you’re describing here of Rasmus’ perception I first encountered with pagers. Back when cel phones were insanely expensive and airtime was US$3 to $5 a minute (and fractions of calls were rounded up). It was *amazing* how whomever had you carrying a pager treated it like a leash. We weren’t given cel phones, and out on a route, pager goes off, you wait til you’re at a site where you can use a phone, or use a payphone (as they were still plentiful in the wild, then).

    Later, working inhouse at a different gig, if something happened during my morning commute… I’m on my way in, sitting in traffic… do I pull off, find a payphone, and call, which can produce a 15 minute delay, or just wait in traffic and show up in 20? If I call, that’s 35 minutes burned if I do. They could never understand why I was not able to respond *instantly*. And then there’s family, when they get ahold of the number…

    Extending that to today, yes, you can turn it off, or set it to silent, or just selective ignore the calls you want. The technology is all there to enable this. Same with a pager, however. Nothing’s changed at that level. Nor has the social aspect of how people react when technologies that make someone instantly reachable do not produce contact with that person instantly.

    Personally, I can fully see where he’s coming from.

    Comment by aj — October 27, 2008 @ 10:13 pm | Reply

  2. I do pretty much the same thing. Work pays for a smartphone and a data plan for all of us so that we’re easily reachable. Unfortunately for some of my coworkers it amounts to being on call 24/7–although realistically servers don’t go down very frequently for us. I, however, have managed to avoid getting put on that email list. ^^

    Recently, on vacation with my family in Breckenridge my phone went off, I looked at the email and immediately felt my blood pressure rise. It was at that point that I realized I needed to disable automatic checking of email. Now I only get email on my phone when I tell it to, when I’m in the mood to read it. It was on this same trip preparing for my mom’s traditional birthday hike that the thought occurred to me: airplane mode doesn’t have to be just for airplanes.

    I find I am much happier for not letting my phone check for email without explicit instructions and making better use of airplane mode. I don’t think I would ditch it because it’s a little bit of a comfort to know I can call people more easily if I’m in a bind.

    Comment by Evan — November 5, 2008 @ 4:27 am | Reply

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