Since I require a public confessional, I’ll just have out with it: I have developed a slight obsession with “Mad Men,” which is right in the medias res of its final season on AMC. I did not have even a remote interest in watching this show, however, until I came across a theory about how it ends. Since I have a long-standing interest in American history, the notion that such an audacious ending might be incorporated into a mainstream TV show (where series finales are, more often than not, cop outs) was immediately fascinating to me.
Couple that carrot with the relative strength of the historical period upon which the show is focused, and I was all in. In watching I’ve learned that the dialogue is often superb and that “Mad Men” doesn’t rely on modern television contrivances, most notably the bloodlust for increasingly shocking turnabouts. I’m now engaged in a very contemporary struggle: a binge — the attempt to finish through Season 6½ — while maintaining my sanity — so that I can watch the last half-season live.
But this may be the only modern struggle in which I intentionally engage.
Draped in Mystery
Near the end of Season 2, the series’ protagonist, Don Draper, goes to California on a business trip and disappears under a resumed name. (Spoiler alert: he eventually comes back.) Everybody wants to know where he’s gone. Nobody can get in touch with him. All this, of course, takes place in the early 1960s, when you could do something like that — without having to ditch a cellphone, or construct an extravagant lie.
As our connection to technology increases, it becomes more difficult for us to disappear, if even for a little while.
Here’s a three-sentence summary of that four-episode arc of “Mad Men,” updated for 2014:
Don flies to California for business and contemplates overstaying his ticket. Betty, Pete and Peggy text, call and email him incessantly, to make sure he is going to be at the airport in time for his flight. Don returns home to work, as planned.
Even given what little you may know of the particulars, that is less stirring, is it not?
Not that I am contemplating running away (I am not, seriously), but I do share a common deficiency with Don Draper: I don’t own a smartphone, and probably never will again.
People ask me all the time why this is so, especially at ABA TECHSHOW, where the irony positively drips. Well, here is why.
Dis-connection. Many people now feel a constant pressure — a weight, really, that is almost tangible — to be “on” and available as often as possible. This is partially wrapped up in the notion of a fear of missing out. In the business context, it is driven by a constant, overriding desire to justify one’s worth. In our modern society, it is often the case that one’s dedication is adjudicated through the average speed by which the judged can respond. Of course, that’s backwards: The true test of the value of a professional’s work is quality, not quantity or acceleration. The time I make away from email, texts and phone calls allows me to block space for thoughtful pursuits.
If I don’t respond to an email for a day or two, it’s because I’m thinking about what to say.
Being connected via smartphone is equivalent to a constant harassment of means; there is a perpetual feeling of being harried and a clinging sense that you lack control.
Beating back urgency addiction. Most folks who consider themselves driven are impressed by the volume of work they can get done. The work comes in, the work goes out. External consequences be damned. The busier we can be (or the busier we can appear to be), the better we feel, the securer we become — at least in the moment. It’s only in those brief instances of respite we allow ourselves that we begin to realize that the application of urgency does not finally substitute for satisfaction — in us, or for others. The staggering volume of email communications feeds our addiction to urgency — and the smartphone delivers your inbox to you anywhere that you happen to be.
If there were a better-baited bear trap for the urgency addicted, it would likely contain a cache of Rolos. After all, if you like processing through piles of tasks, and quickly, there is nothing quite so satisfying as moving through a raft of emails. But, it’s illusory; it’s a sugared response to a lack of energy. If you want action that proves more valuable in the long run, space it out — if there is truly no requirement to respond immediately. Instead, respond well. Without a holstered network server attached to your hip, your trigger-happiness will eventually abate. Then, you can start responding to messages on your time, rather than within a clumsily developed framework of impressions about someone else’s perceived desires.
Saved! Data plans are expensive. New smartphones are expensive. Payment options amount to Gulag and Gulag Plus. Due to screen brightness and Internet access requirements, batteries don’t last and you find yourself needing an array of chargers for various life situations. My little Walter White phone (the first) lasts longer and is much cheaper than a standard smartphone (both as an up-front cost and as respects total cost of ownership). If I need Internet access, I can use my tablet — it’s little and fits in my briefcase, or the pocket of my carpenter jeans.
Literally, in-person. When I meet with someone, whether a personal or business acquaintance, I offer my undivided attention. It’s partly the way I was raised (we had a rotary dial phone when I was a kid), and partly due to the fact that I don’t have any Internet-accessible devices, or I put the ones I do have away. I’m not brazenly checking my email when I talk to you; nor am I doing it surreptitiously. I can’t; I don’t have a phone that does that. I think the lack of distraction adds a level of permanence, clarity and forthrightness to my communications that ultimately strengthens all my relationships, both professional and personal. This is probably why most some people love me.
There is an inverse relationship between technology usage and personal connection. This will only become more marked, as more and stealthier devices are introduced to the market, the ancestors of which are presently available. (I’m looking at you — or not — Apple Watch and Google Glass.) But it’s not as if all of this technology is actually going to fool anyone who really pays attention — they’ll still know when you’re not paying attention to them, only there will be fewer of them around.
The stand. There is an overriding interest in health issues, from diet to posture, and we maintain the best intentions, even if our follow-through is lacking. But what good is it, really, to operate more frequently from a standing position, when you’re still hunched over, eyeballing tiny screens? Certainly, the opposable thumbs are getting a workout, but what about the rest of us?
There is this prevailing attitude that the modern world is generally untethered, that we’re free, because we’re no longer connected to physical servers (now they’re virtual, in the cloud) or cords (save for charging). The fact is, there’s always a physical device, always a plug, always a grid, lurking somewhere in the background, or at the end — even as we try to trick ourselves into believing that is not the case, and that we are, in large part, unrestricted. Perhaps we’re more restricted than ever.
Jared Correia is Assistant Director and Senior Law Practice Advisor at the Massachusetts Law Office Management Assistance Program. Prior to joining LOMAP, he was the Publications Attorney for the Massachusetts Bar Association. Before that, he worked as a private practice lawyer. Jared is the author of “Twitter in One Hour for Lawyers.” He writes on practice management topics for Attorney at Work here, and for the LOMAP blog here. Follow @jaredcorreia.
A Rare Opportunity
Katie Brandt is determined to preserve her late husband Mike’s memory through her Love Is Out There education and awareness campaign, which supports caregivers assisting those afflicted with rare diseases. Katie is making a significant push to appear on The Ellen DeGeneres Show in February, in conjunction with Rare Disease Day. You can submit a request to Ellen via Katie’s website, or tweet @TheEllenShow using the hashtag #EllenforMike.