Confessions of an Unapologetic Internet Addict

Internet AddictionWhen I was a kid I visited the LBJ Library & Museum in Austin with my grandfather. One of the stories that stuck with me was that President Johnson had a voracious appetite for news.

In fact, he was so driven to stay ahead of everyone else that he had AP and UPI ticker machines installed near his desk in the Oval Office. Back in those days, the wire services were basically the Internet. They got the news before everyone else. And unless it was a big story, the average person might not hear about it until the evening news came on television or the morning paper was delivered to the doorstep.

But even that was not good enough for LBJ. Legend has it that he could often be found kneeling in front of one of the machines with the cover off so he could read the bulletins as the letters and words were printed across the page.

This is The Golden Age

If LBJ was around today he’d probably have a Blackberry for work and a Droid for fun. He would love this age, as I do. I wouldn’t want to live in any other time. Having instant answers to any question, from the trivial (who was that child actor in The Descendants?) to material (exactly when did the Hellenic Age span? And what was it anyway?), not to mention endless analysis of whatever issue I’m interested in at the moment, is nirvana to me.

I never appreciated mysteries or magic. I want answers.

Needless to say, I get some flack about the appendage my iPhone has become. And the times the iPhone isn’t in my hand, the iPad is on my lap. Sometimes when I’m on the bus or train, relying on a weak 3G signal, you’ll see me working both devices, reading from one while waiting for a page to load on the other.

What can I say? Information is my passion. I think anyone who’s in the communications business or is a writer has a voracious appetite for information. This is where we get ideas, inspiration, fodder. It’s a lifeline.

Go Ahead, Check Your PDA

The natural question is, does it bother me when other people pull out their cellphones to check their email or Twitter feed? No, it does not.

In the presentations I’ve done, people occasionally check their smartphones. Some do it semi-surreptitiously under the table and others are more unabashed about it.

“How rude!” some people say. To which I respond, there are lots of ways to check out mentally. Just because someone is looking at you, and you alone, does not mean they’re paying attention. They could be doing their grocery list or mocking your wardrobe.

So I don’t care. I think, first of all, “I wonder what’s going on that I’m missing?” And second, it’s my job to keep these people’s attention. If everyone is doing something else, I’m not doing my job well. I consider it a challenge. It focuses me and causes me to amp up my energy.

A Lifelong Passion

My interest in information preceded the Internet by decades. I’ve been reading the morning paper since I was 11. My first job was delivering The Washington Post. I worked on the newspapers in high school and college, where I distinctly remember the bells on the AP machine ringing out late one night, alerting us to the assassination of Indira Gandhi (and requiring us to tear up the front page and start over).

I figured out early on that I wanted to work in a field where gathering and dispensing information was central to the job. I first thought it would be journalism, then I decided on PR.

Out of college, some some co-worker would inevitably observe as I scanned the morning news that I had the only job in the office where reading the newspaper at my desk was not only okay, but expected. When I was press secretary in Ohio, I would go to the newsstand on Sunday mornings and pick up seven newspapers to read (during the week, the staff assembled clip books).

So pull out your smartphones, do what you need to do. And while you’re at it, check the Dallas score for me.

photo: Jakub Krechowicz