Wheaton’s Way

When Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram went down at the beginning of this week, COVID might have suddenly seemed like a secondary issue for many.

It was certainly a stark reminder to me of how much time I spend using those services every day. I must have gone to send a WhatsApp message at least a dozen times, and opened my Facebook page every hour on the hour, only to sadly close it again. It’s like when we’ve lost electricity at the house through a storm or a driver getting up close and personal with a CUC pole. How often do I have to try a light switch or open the refrigerator before it finally sinks in that there ain’t no juice comin’ down the line?

When something becomes such a part of our lives, the idea of it suddenly not being available is unthinkable. Twitter’s bird must have been chirping all the way to the bank on Monday.

We all know that being connected that much has its pros and definite cons. Studies about how we’re physically distancing ourselves from one another, the more we’re plugged into social media, have been well-documented. Journalists have run experiments where they set aside their mobile devices for a period of time, then written about how it made them feel.

They usually feel more relaxed with a sense of freedom after a day or so. Ha! I’ve never made it that far. I’ll think nothing of turning around to go back home when already 20 minutes into a 40-minute car journey because my iPhone is sitting happily on the kitchen counter, oblivious to its owner’s panic. I mean, suppose the Queen needs to get hold of me? Or RuPaul needs fashion advice? I simply can’t take the chance of being uncontactable.

- Advertisement -

Of course, I’m being ridiculous… or am I? The fact is, as we have become more addicted to being available 24/7, so others expect us to be available, 24/7. In the rat race of business, not taking a phone call at 6pm on a Sunday could possibly mean a lost contract for some.

I’ll be the first to stand up and admit that I am a Class 1 offender. I’ve been in the entertainment game for as long as I can remember, and anyone else in the same industry is familiar with keeping odd hours. For example, I know I can call a DJ or musician on a Saturday night with no worries that I’m disturbing them. No one is 9-5 in that world. Unfortunately, I’ve let that mindset of mine go rogue and I happily bother service people as soon as a notion pops into my head.

For example, a couple of weeks ago, I caught myself calling the pool technician at 7:30pm on a Thursday. Was something overflowing? Was the pump broken and spewing lava over the garden? No, no. I just wanted to see if they could come to the house in the next week and give me a quote on painting the cement around the rim, and if there was a particular brand that could repel chicken poop, so much the better.

That phone call could have easily waited until Friday, but if I don’t act on things quickly these days, they fly out of my head (you try being over 50), plus I had the man’s mobile phone number. I blame him for giving it to me. That’s my excuse.

Construction workers, gardeners, mechanics… all have fallen prey to my bad habit. I’ve got to stop it.

While I’m unburdening myself, let’s not forget to include messenger apps in this discussion. Sending a text message out of business hours can be just as annoying to the recipient as a call. Unless they have their phone on mute, it’s a ‘ping’ that cuts into their evening.

Now, understand that I’m not applying this scenario to the entertainment business, when evening calls and messages are pretty normal. That being said, I’ve had my fair share of abnormal ones.

Back when printed phone books were a thing, boys and girls, our company took out an ad in the local yellow pages. We didn’t have any kind of budget, so we got the word count down to be short and sweet in order to save money. I can’t remember exactly what it said (see: try being over 50), but it was something about being entertainment providers and being available by phone at all hours.

So, one evening, I was sitting at home, minding my own business, when the company line rang. It was a man who was visiting the island and he wanted to know what we offered. The conversation must have gone on for about three minutes, with me rabbiting on about bands and fire dancers before I finally clued in that he was looking for more private, late-night activities. Of course, I explained to him that such services were illegal in Cayman, at which point he got off the phone pretty quickly. I have to say, though, I was really tempted to play along and then show up at his hotel door with some friends, carrying a game of Monopoly.

“Who’s for some fun? I’ll be the boot… ”

Anyway, the point I’m trying to make – in a very circumlocutory fashion – is that some of us understand that our business requires us to be available at odd hours of the day, night and weekend, but many people didn’t sign up for that. The advantage of just having landlines before mobile devices arrived meant when the office lights went off and the door was locked, the company was closed for the day. Customers accepted that and the world didn’t come to an end.

If it was the type of business that had to have an emergency number, that was a landline too, and staff to cover those hours would be rotated in a schedule. Nowadays, anyone can be on call, whether they want to be or not.

I am the first person that needs to wean myself off the instant gratification offered by access to someone’s mobile number. I need to ask myself if the call/message is really so important that it can’t wait, and if it isn’t, I should make a note and reach out in more sociable hours.

On the flip side, we need to give ourselves a break from our devices. You wouldn’t think that creating some distance would make a difference, but you don’t realise how much that ring or ‘ping’ interrupts your day until it isn’t happening.

I’m definitely going to do what I can to curb calling others unless it’s necessary, but whether I can step away from my phone for a while is another story. After all, you never know when someone might be up for an impromptu game of Monopoly.

- Advertisement -

Support local journalism. Subscribe to the all-access pass for the Cayman Compass.

Subscribe now