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I was an early adopter of the BlackBerry in the mid-2000s — not the email only pager-like device, but the smartphone which was rapidly becoming an essential piece of equipment for serious business road warriors like myself.

If you got an email on it you could bet it was business related and probably important.  When the mail alert beeped you checked the device, fully expecting to see a relevant email that related to a business engagement.  The flood of social and marketing emails, from the ridiculous to the mundane and irrelevant, had yet to be the problem that it has become today.  So few people had smart phones that when you pulled it out of the holster, everyone noticed.

“What is that thing?” asked a clerk at convenience store.

“It is my email and telephone,” I responded while scrolling through four new messages.

“Well isn’t that amazing,” she responded.  “I can’t ever imagine needing to get my email on a mobile phone!  That is just silly.”

A colossal understatement.

Today, smartphones are a vital component of our connected society.  Today, if you do not have a smartphone — I am now an Apple iPhone devotee — you are either retired or hopelessly out of touch.  Even panhandlers seem to have them — I caught a guy who needed $5 to buy something to eat using his smartphone to call someone after I told him that I didn’t have any cash on me.

In some households, text messages and even emails fly back and forth between siblings and parents who are sometimes not more than 20-feet from one another.  And have you noticed couples in restaurants?  Both have their phones out and appear engrossed in reading messages and texting but are not speaking to each other.  That is beyond disturbing.

These phones appear to serve as a crutch for people who cannot imagine walking a few paces or being in an elevator or other space for more than 10 seconds without doing something.  They pull out their smartphone — the one they checked for text messages or emails less than two minutes ago before they left their home or office — and begin the swiping and scrolling for new important messages.  There probably aren’t any but it beats that awkward moment of inadvertently making eye contact with a passerby, or a neighbor or a colleague and perhaps having to respond the old fashioned way — oral conversation.