Of Blackberries, Pond Crossings, and the Life-Work Divide

CIQ Headlines

Yesterday, I saw a New York City bus carrying a full-length ad for Continental Airlines. It had a description of the new flat-bed seats business class travelers can enjoy on long-haul trips. The slogan, “Work Hard. Fly Right.”
Having just returned from Europe myself, I thought: Most Europeans, and certainly Mediterraneans, would think the ad firm was soon to be fired. You’re advertising beds and working hard in the same sentence?

It’s repeated often: Americans live to work. work to live. Nothing makes that more evident than the Blackberry outage yesterday. In one of our headline articles from the New York Times, untethered Berry users talked about feelings of relief and freedom, and compared it to that sense many business travelers describe of getting on  a plane: Despite the grime, cramped quarters, and crankiness of airline travel, at last!—a respite from constant connection. One can even read a book.

Corporate trainers, meeting leaders, and life-partners all describe the same thing: You think you have the attention of the ones around you. And then they dip their heads and surreptitiously thumb out an email. I have taught ninth grade. And I have also run large-scale corporate meetings. Guys (and it is mostly guys), you’ve got a lot to learn from the 14-year-olds. They are much better at note-passing than you are. You’re not fooling any one. And P.S.—It’s rude.

Interesting, though, the alignment with Europe that the Berry reveals. I, myself, described earlier in the week that Americans are on the Internet, and Europeans are pecking out text messages on cell phones. And yet, with the popularity of the Berry, we look very much like them—thumbing away. Though, perhaps more typical of culture this side of the pond, the Berry is a work device, the cell phone personal.