A few months ago, I pulled off the Cross County Parkway in Yonkers at dinner time and walked into a Friday's. I wasn't there to eat, but to rob the place.
The waiting room was packed with families. I worked my way through them -- 'scuse me, pardon me, 'scuse me -- and found what I was looking for: an electrical outlet. There I stood for 30 minutes typing furiously while sucking energy from the wall into my BlackBerry.
My name is Bill, and I am a mobile device addict.
They say the first step toward recovery is admitting powerlessness. But it's powerlessness, quite literally, that puts me in these situations. It happened twice yesterday. Once in Grand Central Station (two sockets on the left of the ticket machines across from Track 32) and a half-hour later at the White Plains Train Station (socket at the top left when you come off the escalator at track level). I have been confronted by security guards at Grand Central on more than one occasion.
When you need an energy fix, you have to have one. Being unavailable -- out of the loop -- is excruciating. In my business, it puts you at a disadvantage to the guy who actually saw and reacted to the breaking news tweet while your device faded from blinking red to black. That's why I carry a BlackBerry, an Android phone, a "MiFi" hot spot device, a tablet, a backup Duracell charger, two laptops, and a car charger wherever I go. And still, I run out of juice. All the time. This is no nickel-a-day habit.
I'll be 49 in August. I didn't touch a computer until my mid-20s. If I and others my age have a monkey on our backs this large, what of the younger generations? As Samuel Morse queried in his very first telegraph: "What hath God wrought?"
Former first daughter Chelsea Clinton is a board member of Common Sense Media, a not-for-profit that advises families on media usage by their children. She recently wrote: "By the time they're 2 years old, more than 90% of all American children have an online history. At 5, more than 50% regularly interact with a computer or tablet device, and by 7 or 8, many kids regularly play video games. Teenagers text an average of 3,400 times a month. The fact is, by middle school, our kids today are spending more time with media than with their parents or teachers."
This dynamic is playing out in my house. In her freshman year, one daughter was averaging 10,000 text messages a month. Our avid reader, who had cracked Melville and Dickens in middle school, had become, like OMG. That is nothing to LYAO about. Another daughter, who used to like the cello, walks around mindlessly playing something called "Tiny Wings" on a tablet. And our 5 3/4-year-old announced yesterday that her two front teeth can wait; all she wants for Christmas is a BlackBerry Bold.
In South Korea, the government has set up camps for Internet addiction. Teenagers have actually hatched escape plots to get back to their mini keyboards.
Funny, these mobile devices were billed to increase our freedom. That's something to ponder as I sit tethered to a wall, charging my devices two at a time.
Bill O'Reilly is a corporate and political communications consultant.
This post originally ran on Newsday.
Image credit: Creative Commons/Iptflickr@flickr.com