Presence, Part 1

Hi, my name is Doug and I don’t own an iPhone and I don’t plan on buying one anytime soon. Don’t get me wrong, I love the technology. It’s really cool, but the problem I have is the message the medium itself communicates.

No media is entirely neutral. Each medium we use to communicate sends it’s own message independent of what we are actually trying to say.

The message of the iPhone is this: “Be somewhere, anywhere, other than where you are right now.” It says to you that something is going on somewhere in the world that is more important, more interesting, or more entertaining than what is happening in front of you right now.

My wife and I enjoy theater quite a lot. I’m amazed to watch couples sit before the curtain rises each in their own virtual world, not talking to each other, not interacting.

What’s worse is that the house lights go down, and all over the theater little faces glow in the iPhone backlight as their owners send one last email or double check a score.

The moments before the curtain goes up in a theater are agonizing and magical. The minutes tick by slowly as your excitement builds for the thing you are about to see. You look around at the little details all over the theater, siting in a seat where generations of theater-goers have sat.

The lights go down and the overture starts and all of you senses are heightened by the waiting. With an iPhone in your hand, the lights go down and curse them because you didn’t have time to finish the thing you were doing.

Wherever you are, be there

I had a friend growing up whose dad was always full of clever expressions. This one has always stuck with me:

“Wherever you are, be there.”

When I heard it as a kid, it didn’t make that much sense.

How can I be someplace other than where I am? It took a couple of decades and a stylish visionary company to answer my question. But here it is now. The iPhone will let you be anywhere but in the place that you are.

The issue is one of presence. It’s being in a place without actually being present there.

I’ll admit it, I have a serious problem with games. When I went away to college in 1998, I gave away my copy of Warcraft II, because I knew there was no way I could do well in college if I had access to it.

I sometimes barely say hello to my friend when I walk into his house, grab his iPad and start playing Plants vs. Zombies. I missed half of Thanksgiving this year, because I found my cousin’s phone lying about with Angry Birds on it.

I don’t own any of these devices now because I want to protect my presence wherever I am.

I know the change these devices are bringing is inevitable and ultimately I will have to learn to live life alongside such devices. But, for now I’ll hold off and try to keep myself present in every moment of my life and in every line of code I write.

What have you missed today?

Doug Bradbury, Director of Software Services

Doug Bradbury is a maker, a thinker, a craftsman, and a learner.