Wednesday, December 8, 2010

It Does Have a Power Switch

Yes, I use a Blackberry.  And yes, I have been known to, uh...distracted by it.  Yesterday, after soliciting the room number of a hospital patient, I punched the "up" elevator call button and began to enter the room information into my phone.  The elevator arrived surprisingly quickly, and without looking up I stepped through the open doors, still entering data.  Two passengers already in the elevator stood silently until one of them, noticing my inattention, asked, "Are you going anywhere in particular?"  Sheepishly, I put my phone away, pressed my floor selection and apologized.  Yes, I could stand to pay more attention to what I'm doing.

But it isn't the phone's fault.  I am the one who interrupts what I'm doing to attend to its various vibrations, tones, and blinking lights.  I am the one who panics when I see the battery strength running low.  I am the one who mentally checks out of long-running meetings to send a text message or carry on a surreptitious instant messaging conversation with my wife.  I am my own distractional perpetrator, not the technological victim.  So you'll understand my disconcerted amusement, then, to receive an email last evening from a company from whom I have purchased various Blackberry applications announcing the introduction of their newest product offering -- simply called "Freedom."  But here, let me allow them to make their own pitch:

Are you a BlackBerry® addict?
Freedom is a simple productivity application that locks you away from using the phone function or the internet on your BlackBerry®. Freedom frees you from distractions, allowing you to have private time with your spouse, time to analyze, write or create. After the offline time is up, Freedom automatically restores all connections. You can choose the time: from a few minutes up to half a day.
Note: If you are in a case of emergency and you really need to make a phone call (e.g. call an ambulance) you can always reset your device by pulling out the battery. This is the only way that allows you to get all connections reinstated.
  • Gives you time to concentrate and focus.
  • Fix Freedom time in minutes.
  • Cuts off any interruption from your BlackBerry®: SMS, email, phone calls, Facebook, Twitter, Social Feeds, BBM, news, weather info, etc.
  • Works with radio, WiFi, Bluetooth, GSM, CDMA, 3G, and more.
So let me get this straight:  I open this application, set a designated time limit during which I "do not wish to be disturbed" -- during which I can be "productive" -- and the program completely disables the phone; something like a teacher confiscating a toy.  Amazing, and all for only $2.99. 

Or, here's a thought:  I could exercise a little responsible self-discipline and simply turn the device Off.

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Flash of Heaven in the Window

The house is nestled deep into an expanse of farm land that stretches like a horizontal painter's canvas almost as far as the eye can see -- flat and furrowed, the landscape dotted only sparsely by a barn and neighboring house or two.  Out the back westward window is a view of an ox bow of the Missouri River that, generations ago, cut this looping extension which now welcomes  -- at least on this afternoon -- thousands of Canada geese crowded into the deeper center where the spreading ice had not quite encroached.  It was like an airport -- all evening flying "V's" would approach and, in landing, take the place of another recently departed.  The next morning, a few random snow geese would sprinkle themselves in among the others, like salt accidentally spilled into pepper; but this evening it was all Canadian.  Coming, going, convening.

Having traveled west for a work-related conference, we had bent our itinerary a little northward to visit a dear friend in whose West Des Moines backyard garden we had been married 13 years ago.  A few years after that happy event, our hosts had sold the home in which they had raised their children and moved to Ellen's family farm on the western edge of the state.  There they had carved this fresh homestead out of the legacy of an older one, borrowing from the cropland a little space for lawn and trees and windows and home where they could be grounded by the legacy, nourished by the ancient soil and entertained by the birds on the water.  Many had thought it a curious move -- at their age -- to pack up and start over a distance from friends and associations and, not least of all, doctors.  But Ellen was determined and Dale acquiesced and off they went and promptly settled in.  If regrets ever nibbled around their edges, they never hinted at it.  Home, now, in a different and deeper sort of way, they set their new lives in motion.

Now almost a decade later, we talked through the late afternoon; gathered together around a table -- Ellen's signature hospitality -- and talked some more.  But as the sun set in the distance, the conversation had trouble competing with the streaking oranges and pinks and muted yellows filling the windows, and the fiery golds reflecting off the water, and the chorus of geese settling in for the night.  It was almost grief that I felt when the last of the setting light faded, extinguishing the view.  I wanted to search around for the control box into which I could drop a few coins to turn the lights back on for just a few more minutes of glory. 

But it was night, and time not simply for the geese's rest, but our own.  Even still I paused a moment to look out the now blackened windows, remembering. 

If, as I mentioned, some had questioned the wisdom of such a move, staring out that window where all heaven had revealed itself just a mealtime ago, I couldn't help but assess them to be among the wisest people I know.