Well, not really my moral core.
But yesterday I was mortified to find myself actually responding to a text message in the middle of class. And while I normally feel no great compulsion to give public confessions, this is different. Because just a week before, I had gently admonished a student who did the same thing.
I was showing a brief video excerpt to the class. The room was dark. Suddenly, I felt the vibrations from my new Blackberry storm in my shirt pocket. When I looked down, I saw the name of the sender who — whatever they were sending — could not have conceivably been the source of an emergency message. In other words, I could’ve waited. Easily.
Except that it wasn’t easy.
I couldn’t wait, and I actually hid the Blackberry from the class’es view and checked the message. Not only could it have waited, but I easily could have deleted it without opening it.
Aside from the fact that my Blackberry will now be turned off during class, it is probably a media professor’s occupational hazard that I can’t stop thinking about it. Why in the world did I feel a temporary, almost irresistible, compulsion to open that message? What information or psychic benefit did I imagine I would be missing if I waited twenty minutes until the end of class? Why was I unable to even think twice before I lost the kind of digital patience that I expect from students during class?
The answer isn’t that profound. We live in a society, and are immersed in a culture, in which the definition of connectedness keeps changing. We are sold devices that promise permanent connectedness. Our digital commercial culture regularly reminds us that even one moment out of the loop might be the precise moment in which we miss that once-in-a-lifetime message. We come to imagine that the costs of disconnectedness are too great to even imagine.
My brief moment of surreptitious texting also reminded me that, only a year or two ago, even a compulsive guy like me could wait several hours to read my e-mail. Yet yesterday I found myself easily slipping into a series of imagined, implausible scenarios in which failing to open one stupid e-mail could have all sorts of catastrophic consequences.
Is this crazy or what? Of course it is. And I can’t avoid thinking that there may even be some embarrassing amount of grandiosity in imagining that there was some urgent reason that I in particular had to open that particular message. Who do I think I am?
Of course I don’t want to do it again. But I am too aware of my own fears and insecurities to say that it won’t be a struggle. Even as I write this, I feel a small twinge of anxiety just contemplating an hour or two of disconnectedness.
And I don’t like the feeling.