I’ve been quiet for several months; time for reflection and a sabbatical from writing after almost twenty-five years without a break. Technology is rather more difficult to escape; particularly the kind offered by my Blackberry and I’ve discovered during the summer, while I’ve been building-up Airads, my aviation business, that the device is quite invaluable in the cockpit as long as you don’t fly too fast and too high.
As an example, earlier in the summer, I had an engine starter motor problem on the way back from Devon which needed urgent attention and I knew that my aircraft engineer was on holiday in Wales. So while flying the aircraft back to base, I managed to conduct a two way diagnostic conversation by Blackberry SMS, which ensured, thanks to having my Outlook address book replicated that I had a second engineer and a replacement engine part available for the following morning.
I know what you’re thinking, “You’re not supposed to have a mobile phone switched on when flying.” True, it’s a pain if you happen to be flying passengers because all those phones keep-up a constant ‘polling’ noise in your headset, which is annoying and distracting but as a standby communications device they can have their uses.
A couple of years ago, I had a radio problem when coming into what is now Kent International at Manston; I could hear but I couldn’t transmit. So I pulled out my phone, dialled up the operations, a number I had already stored in my address book and shouted my problem into the phone, not certain whether I could be heard over the engine noise or not. A couple of minutes later I heard the air traffic controller use my aircraft call sign and tell me that he understood I had a problem and that I was to follow his instructions to land, which I did, without any further hitches.
That is of course a useful face of the Blackberry, the negative side, as many of us know is the ‘cocaine-like’ addiction to the device, which has given them the popular nickname of ‘Crackberry.’ If, like me, you find it almost impossible to ignore the device off in your waking hours and even take kayaking with you in a plastic pouch, then it’s time to recognise the warning signs of addiction.
But having a Blackberry and a wireless laptop does give me a remarkable freedom to live and work where I want that I could never have imagined twenty-five years ago. In this case, I can run two completely different businesses in situ, working with Microsoft one day and flying the next.
So if I’m hooked on the practicalities of the Blackberry-lifestyle, what gives me cause for concern is the pervasive spread of such devices among a new generation of young people who are already hooked on other forms of consumer technology, such as Sony’s Playstation and Apple’s iPod. Will the future be so personally wired and digitally intrusive that it will offer no place to hide, other perhaps than a Trappist-monastery?
And that’s a real problem. Because pervasive communications technology of this kind muddies the great “Sunday morning” principle; the great human switch-off. In accepting the benefits of 24*7 availability I realise I’ve lost something equally valuable. I’ve forgotten how not to be at work and I wonder how many people reading this share the same problem?