News earlier this month of BlackBerry’s final phone1 brought back lots of memories for me. I spent 5 years working on the Research In Motion account for one of my previous agencies in Paris, earlier in my career. Those were the days when mobile operating systems ranged from Symbian to Palm, and Android was a character from Dr Who. During that period, we spent one entire year explaining the concept of ‘push’ email to analysts (there was nothing comparable in the market, then).
I also became very proficient at using the BlackBerry keyboard; in fact, I could type nearly as quickly as I could think. In some instances – in all honesty – sometimes I typed even quicker . . .
The relationship – or otherwise – between typing and thinking is the subject of a new book La Siliconisation du Monde2 (The Siliconisation of the World), by French philosopher, Eric Sadin, who fears for the complete separation of the thought process precipitated by devices such as smartphones and social media. It is the very ease with which information can be received and shared, that sidelines our cerebral processes. Everything becomes a form of default; preconceptions are endorsed, reinforced, and then shared on a massive scale. This process limits our requirement to reflect and – according to Sadin – will ultimately lead to a form of intellectual ‘atrophy’. If we engage our intellect less frequently, it will become weaker and more dispensable. The insight is delivered with the ‘panache’ and urgency of a French intellectual (only in France, could a philosopher write a bestseller!), but it does highlight the perils of linking the speed of a response with its absolute value (my wife refers to this as the ‘Stupidification of Silicon Valley’!). Quicker doesn’t always mean better . . .
I confess, that I’ve still not mastered the touchscreen; I cannot type as quickly as I could on a mobile keyboard. Maybe that’s not a bad thing. Since switching to a touchscreen phone a couple of years ago, I’m more measured in the way I respond; sometimes I wait until I’m in front of a PC to reply in more detail, sometimes I call the person direct to understand a situation better. These alternatives have created a type of ‘response latency’ where I’m forced to think before acting; my improved decision-making is a direct result of leaving my mobile keyboard behind.
The new generation of users have no such inhibitions or ergonomic limitations with touchscreens; they can still type – in some cases – quicker than they think. The ubiquity of emoticons and touchscreen vernacular, has made their response times even shorter.
However, I’m comfortable with the enforced reflection time imposed on me by the touchscreen interface; it forces me to think before I respond. Such ‘response latency’ actually adds to the quality of my thinking. The enforced delay provides me with thinking time to reflect on the best response. Now, when I receive a message on the move, sometimes I call back, sometimes I wait until I’m in front of my laptop, occasionally I even essay a brief response in real time (it’s painful to watch, I assure you!) . . . and sometimes I don’t respond at all. For me, that’s progress.
But this may not be right for everyone; I’m speaking as someone who started his career (in 1993!) sending press releases via Royal Mail; waiting time has always been a fundamental part of my professional life.