Monday, April 30, 2007

We're All Nodes Now

Sometime in the last year, I became a node in a network.

I got a preview of it when I carried a Sidekick, and left myself logged into AIM 24/7. I'd wake up to collected IMs- fragmentary missives from those too lazy to write an actual email- stacked up on my device. I'd answer those from the logged in and defer those from the disconnected, and go about my business.

At that point I was like a store and forward server- always available, but with an expectation that my network activity was sporadic and time insensitive. I might ping back in a second, an hour, or never.

The qualitative shift came when I turned in my personal Sidekick for my corporate Blackberry. Suddenly, my network participation was sponsored by my employer, and a new set of expectations came along. I received an email from my superiors one Monday that I was expected to have my Blackberry on all weekend, and to respond in a timely manner to messages and emails. The network was imposing an SLA on me.

Now that SLA has gone down from 'timely' to 'instant'. In my position, I often participate in conference calls or meetings, and when I'm leading those meetings it's generally considered impolite to take a phone call and ignore the people sitting in the room with me. No matter to the other nodes trying to get in touch with me- if I don't pick up the phone, they send me an email or a text message demanding that I call back or pick up the next time they call.

The fact that e-mail, voice mail and text messages allow for asynchronous communication is meaningless to many of my fellow nodes. Secure in the knowledge that I have my Blackberry with me, they try every port available to yank my attention from the here and now for their remote intervention (someday, I'll finish my post about why the telephone, until very recently, was the worst invention of the millennium).

I typically don't respond instantly to these triple pings- if I didn't pick up the phone in the first place, there's probably a good reason. Furthermore, the frantic attempts to demand my attention often drop a return call to the bottom of my priority list, somewhere behind feeding my cat. At that point, I'd rather respond with an email, composed asynchronously and on my schedule, than get on the phone with a demanding node.

I'm a bad node.