Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sign off to tune in. 3 reasons you should stow your smartphone while in public.

You must, yes must, read this article from CNN, which addresses the very real problem that smartphones present from a cultural point of view. It was contributed by a couple of writers from Brooklyn, N.Y., who are writing a book called "Stuff Hipsters Hate." Sounds like a great bathroom book for my hubby, although I'm not sure he will know what the word hipster means.

Anyway, here's the thing. There are three reasons smartphones are becoming a bigger and bigger problem for we info-overloaded humans:

  1. We're training a whole new generation of people with acute attention deficit disorder.
  2. It's dangerous, ala texting while driving or walking a busy city street. Fender benders and pedestrian mishaps galore.
  3. It's just plain rude. Have you noticed the lull in conversation that occurs when someone decides they have to respond to a text. Or update their Facebook status. OK, so sometimes it can be part of the conversation. Not most of the time.

So, now that you've read this article during a meeting, is there anything about your behavior you plan to change?

For me, the answer is yes. From henceforth, I pledge to focus on being "present" in the present whenever I'm sitting on my friend's patio or having a quick beverage after a rehearsal with my a cappella chorus. Can't promise not to tune out while I'm in the Starbucks line, though. And here's another thing, at least the focus has switched from yakking on mobile phones in public places to a behavior that may be just as rude, but is certainly much more quiet.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Mourning the passing of my tech-journo mentor, Bruce Cummings

You may hold two people primarily responsible for my obsessive fashion with technology and, ultimately, how it makes the world turn from a cultural and commercial standpoint. Or vice versa. The first person is my mother, who snagged me a college internship in the marketing department at Apple. No going back. The second is my newly late friend, Bruce Cummings, who challenged me to combine my background in English literature with my inner geek.

In the three weeks since I heard about Bruce's passing, from his wife of 41 years, Billie, I've been thinking a lot about my own mortality and what positive mark I might be able to make on this world. To me, that would be the best way for me to remember him.

Ever since our first encounter, when he was an executive at one of the big computer products distribution companies, I knew there was something unique about Bruce. For starters, he was a journalist's dream interview: Someone who wasn't afraid to go off the script of canned responses with which corporate communications types often attempt to shackle company spokespeople. Plus, he actually had READ my stories. For real!

Over the years, Bruce taught me that trade journalists could and should spend as much time honing their craft as any Pulitzer prize-winning journalist. I know that seems like a pretty obvious goal, but trade writers are often reminded by their publishers that they serve two audiences -- their readers and their advertisers. To steal an expression from one of my favorite-ever books: "Feign to deny it." (Points if you can name the novel and the author.) Bruce used to scold me if he thought I hadn't gone far enough or, God forbid, if I hadn't been fair or balanced in my coverage. Thankfully, he didn't have to scold me all that often. I called upon his advice many many times when I became editor of the publication, when I came in Monday mornings to calls from irate advertisers. Bruce taught me that diplomacy can be a journalist's best trait. Indeed, it is essential in building trust.

Bruce was also my special buffer against something that was a big problem for me early on during my career, when there were VERY EVERY FEW women circulating at many of the trade show parties and conferences: overly friendly product managers and marketing types.

One incident stands out in my mind: It was during a Comdex show in Las Vegas maybe 15 years ago now, one that my mother also happened to be attending. At a party hosted by my publication, one of the attendees became inappropriately attentive to the point where I was genuinely afraid and my mother was at her wit's end. Bruce managed to defuse the situation with alacrity, without embarrassing the person in question, which had been my chief concern. Blissfully, the individual didn't really remember much the next day, which was a good thing. Think about the prospect of interviewing someone who has made a pass at you and you'll understand my dilemma.

I hadn't seen Bruce for many months when I heard about his passing from Billie, but I thought of him often, especially since being laid off from that same trade job around three years ago. Bruce was one of the first people to call me after what I now refer to as "the blessed event." He, quite frankly, was thrllled for me -- he thought that my dedication to that position held me back from my true calling. Candidly, I'm still not sure what that true calling is, but I'm closer to knowing, because of Bruce.

My dear friend, I mourn your passing, but I celebrate your life every day with every blog or article that I write. I'm so happy you enriched mine. Rest in peace.