Man & Machine

A guy at work recently asked me how he can switch off the email part of his Blackberry and silly as it sounds, I’ve been thinking about this ever since. I asked why he would want to do that and the reason was so that at the weekends or on holiday he won’t be bothered by emails arriving but the phone will still be active (as it is the only phone he has). Many others at work use the option of having two devices, the Blackberry just for mail and a phone for everything else while some, myself included, only have the Blackberry and don’t feel the need to disable mail when not at work. The different approaches got me wondering what sort of relationship people have with their machines and how come it gets so personal?

I think our relationship with machines varies depending on the amount of interaction there is with it. So, we might have four categories, most personal at the top and least at the bottom:

  1. Very personal – phones, computers, music players, games machines, cameras.
  2. Partly personal – mostly transport like cars, bicycles, planes, motorbikes, trains.
  3. Incidental – tools we use for a short time to get a simple job done, something like a coffee machine or microwave.
  4. Impersonal – Power stations, water pumps and things we don’t see but do work for us.

The exact list within each category will depend on the individual of course – likes and dislikes, job, hobbies. I’m also assuming there’s a connection between what the machine does and how personal the relationship gets. For example music, photos/videos and communication are personal so mp3 players, cameras, phones and computers become more important to us.

It is possible for items in category 2 to move up to category 1. I know some people who would place their bicycles and cars in category 1, for example. Machines in categories 3 & 4 would largely remain there unless they break down. As long as I my house has electricity and water, as long as I can make a coffee in the morning, everything is okay but if any of that breaks down – it gets personal!

It would also be interesting to explore how “fashion” or “form” plays into this. It’s not following the same priority as personal attachment because people can be very fussy about the look of their microwave or coffee machine, so it looks good for guests or matches the kitchen. In fact, would it be fair to say that the way something looks i more important at levels 2 and 3 than at level 1? Is the most important thing at level 1, function or is fashion also a big deal?

But coming back to the idea of needing to switch off the mail function. This is a much deeper issue, surely? I mean, it’s not as if you have to read the mails that arrive and even if you do, you don’t need to reply to them, so switching off the mail function or having two devices and leaving the Blackberry switched off means what exactly? That you don’t have the ability to mentally separate work and personal life? That you can’t control your curiosity and so that will mean you read all your mails at the weekend? That bad news from work will ruin your evening/weekend/holiday? You don’t care enough about work to be bothered with it outside of 9-5?

It is interesting this because you don’t have to open the mail application to use the phone and other apps. If you do get mail over the weekend the worst that will happen is the light will flash red (although that can be switched off I think) and if you look hard enough at the screen there’s a little envelope symbol to show you have mail. That’s it. Also, you must remember that the number of mails that arrive between close of play Friday and opening hours Monday is very small, five perhaps, often fewer than that.

Until now I’ve always left mine on and I do check the mails and even respond as well. I do this because I find the Blackberry allows me to deal with my workload at the best time FOR ME to do so. So in those down times that inevitably arise whether it be workday, weekend, evening you’re able to catch up and deal with things instantly. To switch the thing off would mean all those wonderful surprises build up like snow waiting for an avalanche the next time I connect to mail because no matter how much you’d like it all to just go away, it never does!

What sort of relationship do you have with your machines?

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3 thoughts on “Man & Machine

  1. First of all, awesome use of a Futurama graphic and extra points for one I’ve never seen before.

    The issue with turning off mail and being “always connected” is, I think, an issue that sociologists and psychologists and the like are thinking about and dealing with more and more. There are loads of studies that have found that poorly-organised mail is distracting and counter-productive. Though of course I suppose that we could say that people that are generally disorganised are distracted (and distracting) and aren’t very productive.

    Personally, I carry around my iPhone …always. I have a handful of email accounts that it watches though none for work. Same on my MacBook Pro at home. Crucially, none of these are work-related… but I also check my email, catch up on news feeds via RSS, etc. when I have the chance. I like the fact that I’m as in touch as I want to be but I don’t feel it’s a burden.

    Side-note: my wife tried to get a Nokia E63 from work as she has recently been promoted to assistant manager and figured that since the company insisted she have a company phone, the company would also want her to be “always in touch” via email. They declined, saying they didn’t want to stump the few hundred zl’s for the E63 so she opted for the roughly half-as-much Blackberry. Same deal, they didn’t want to stump the cash. Turns out that upper management feels that those sorts of phones are only for …upper management.

  2. I’m with you Ian. As long as I have my coffee I can survive almost anything. I can live without the rest (well almost). Need for speed. ;-)

  3. I’m sorry to hear of your wife’s accident and am glad that she’s okay.

    I have never used my cell phone as an e-mail reading device. Initially, I did have internet capability hooked up, but I realized I didn’t need it and took it off. So now it’s just a phone. Boring, huh? :-/ Just e-mail on the laptop for me.

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