life with my crackberry

The New York Times had an article last year on how smartphones are becoming seen as a necessity.  Overall, it was sort of an eyeroll inducing article, and most of the commenters on the site did seem to be rolling their eyes.  But I do think it made a good point about how as a group (whether a work team or a group of friends) reaches a saturation point with the technology, it becomes harder to be the outlier.  People start to assume that you don't have comments on an email if you haven't responded in a few hours.  People get sloppy about making detailed advanced plans because they assume they'll be able to reach you by phone.

At work, they asked us sometime last fall if we wanted blackberries, and I said no thanks.  I check email from home anyway, and didn't feel like I wanted to be on constant call.  But most of my team got them, and within a few months, I went back to my boss and asked if it was too late to change my mind.  As it turns out, she had also said no previously, and was having second thoughts as well.  So we both got them.

I've had it for a couple of months now, and I'm pretty spoiled by it.  I still hardly use it as a cell phone — but the always-on connection to the internet and email is darned addictive.  Before I had it, I couldn't imagine paying for a data plan out of pocket — I was quite content with the combination of my iPod touch and a cheapo pay-by-the-minute cellphone — but now if I went to a job that didn't pay for the service, I might come up with the money to pay for it myself.  It's a perfect demonstration of the hedonic treadmill.

This week, there's been some buzz about IRS guidelines saying that personal use of a company cell phone is a taxable fringe benefit, just like use of a company car.  This is apparently something that's been the official policy for years, but essentially no one has known about it (and it's pretty small change compared to use of a car).  My understanding is that the new IRS guidelines were designed to clarify the rules and create a "safe harbor" so you didn't have to track all your use and allocate it across business vs personal, but what they actually did is draw attention to the policy.  I think that in theory, it does make sense to treat these phones as a fringe benefit, but in practice, it's way too much hassle for the amount of money that would be collected.

10 Responses to “life with my crackberry”

  1. urbanartiste Says:

    For some professions the cell phone is not a fringe benefit. Doctors are increasing using texting for passing along consultations rather than beepers, which can be much more efficient. That is the only example I could come up with and due to health/life & death issues it could be a justification. Doctors don’t work on the same systems as police/emt, etc. so a service can connect with a doctor faster.
    I know a number of people that did not buy a cell phone until last year and only did so due to work. They did not want to be available 24/7, but employment dictated they must move with the times. I never texted until this year and it is useful when meeting friends, otherwise I hate typing conversations into a phone. I would like to say I balance my phone usage with actually phone conversations and internet access, but it probably is not true. Email, maps/directions, music, internet access is what I use it most. Email access has been such a great luxury.

  2. jen Says:

    I’m with urbanartiste and you, Elizabeth. I resisted a blackberry as long as I could, but it finally got the point where I honestly felt I was endangering myself at work by not having one. Now I split the difference — I have it, but turn off the ringer/buzz feature and rarely use the phone. It’s more for awareness of what’s happening. (a.k.a. totally freaking me out after hours, when something is occurring and there’s nothing I can do about it. How healthy! NOT.)
    I’m not sure if this is related, but just in the last year or two it has become de rigeur to check work e-mail again between 9-10 pm. EVERYONE at my office does this, that is, all the non-parents, which is like everyone but me. Although I haven’t actually been spoken to about it, I am pointedly omitted from the “thanks for your commitment” e-mails that go out after issues are resolved via this round of work.

  3. Elizabeth Says:

    I actually am one of the people who does a round of work email around 9 or 10 pm, because my kids are asleep (or at least in bed) by then. I figure it’s the trade-off for my walking out of the office between 5.30pm and 6pm even when others are still working…

  4. Jennifer Says:

    At my office it’s the parents who send out emails between 9-10, like Elizabeth says. I do this. It’s a way of showing you’re dedicated even though you left early (or arrived late).

  5. Joe Says:

    The snowballing of pressure to get one is classic Metcalfian network effects in action:
    We resisted using IM and SMS text messaging in our house, but now use IM daily back and forth and the occasional text message. I’m still resisting the nickle-and-dime versus (IMO) very expensive all-you-can-eat pricing for text or data plans. The carriers are trying to turn what their basic offering–a commodity data pipe, into a boutique offering that commands a high price. The sad thing is, people sign on to it.
    I hope something like Android/G1/OpenMoko can get a foothold as this market grows.

  6. landismom Says:

    I’m with you on the ‘checking email at 9′ thing. I have a well-established policy of refusing to do conference calls at either 8 am or 6 pm, too, and am heartily disliked by some of my single co-workers for suggesting conference calls at 8 pm instead.
    On the crackberry–I am so utterly addicted to my iPhone that I could never give it up, now. Having the ability to google anything, anywhere I am, is too irresistable.

  7. Ailurophile Says:

    I’m actually an early-early morning person – snug in bed by 8 or so but up at 4 AM – I get my best work done in the peace and quiet of the buttcrack of dawn. The East Coasters love me. :) It leaves the night-owls fuming – and I seem to collect them – I had a boss who liked to answer all her emails and send out “ASAP Please!” requests at midnight.

  8. jen Says:

    My kids are usually just off to bed by 8:45, and then there’s housework or perhaps grocery shopping to be done. If I log back into e-mail at 9, then nothing will happen around the house. I try to avoid it. (Note we’re not even talking about getting down time. That evidently is totally and utterly off the table.)
    Here’s my thing: what ever happened to the 40-hour week? I hear what people are saying about requesting conference calls at 8pm, and I have done that too in egregious circumstances. But this idea that you have to somehow apologize for leaving work at 5:30 so you can see your kids, and make up for your (bad?) behavior by working an hour or two later, it’s just going down the wrong path. Whatever happened to the 40-hour week?

  9. Elizabeth Says:

    jen, I probably only spend 10 minutes checking email in the evening 95 percent of the time. If I can deal with something with a 2 minute email I do it. If not, and it’s not critical, I leave it until the morning. Maybe once a month, there’s something going on where someone is crashing on something and they need my help, and so I’m on for a longer period of time.

  10. Ethel Says:

    I only just got a cell phone, and it’s a pay-as-you-go plan with a daily access fee – because the only times I plan to use it are for coordination on family outings, and if the car breaks down and I need a tow. My boss does not know it exists.
    I’m with jen – we need to preserve the 40 hour work week. I’m an early bird (7 to 4), and I’ve learned that I need to express no guilt whatsoever about walking out of the office two to three hours before people who arrived at work three to four hours later than me.

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