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Letter from New York
Mathew Tombers is Managing Director of Intermat, Inc., ( a television company which executive produces programs and consults with industry companies on a variety of issues. Intermat, Inc. is currently involved in approximately thirty hours of television in various stages for a variety of networks. He is one of the Executive Producers of OFF TO WAR, a ten hour series for Discovery Times and for a one hour on international adoptions for Discovery Health. He has consulted a variety of companies, including Ted Turner Documentaries, WETA, Betelgeuse Productions, and Creation Films, Lou Reda Productions as well as many others.

August 22, 2007

Post vacation reflections upon digital demands…

I went away for a few days to spend some time with people close to me, some who are family and others who are close to me as family. It was to be my first down time in months. However, the way the world works today we are never cut off. My first two days were largely spent in client conference calls, circling on finding a solution to what seemed an insoluble situation. Eventually, thankfully, we did. However, when asked by someone at the beginning of a call how my vacation was going, I could only respond: my vacation is like work but in another location.

After a three hour conference call, my client promised not to call me again. Only seven minutes later we were talking again.

Eventually, at a Thursday night cocktail party, my best friend Tom Fudali warned me with that steely glint he can get in his eyes, that if I didn’t put the damn thing away, he was going to take it away from me. Sheepishly, I complied, knowing he was right and that I was having trouble with addiction to connectivity. Hello, my name is Mathew and I am addicted to connectivity. I become physically agitated when withdrawn from my normal torrent of data bits, e-mail and phone, all coming together in that delightful little electronic drug called a Blackberry, waggishly called by many: the Crackberry.

After that, I withdrew from the digital world as much as I could and enjoyed the people that I was with but it also caused me to step back and think of how I live my life. I am surrounded by people huddled over their Trios and Blackberries at every moment they’re not doing something else. And I am right there with them.

Yet the relative silence that came when I stepped away allowed me to appreciate the people I was with and the time I was spending with them. One night at dinner, I put my phone in another room and left it on quiet. [Yeah, I snuck a look at it when I went to the bathroom but the little buzzes on my belt weren’t there and therefore couldn’t distract from the ravishing enjoyment of dinner with old friends.]

Technologically separated, I looked at newspapers and read them like a civilian, instead of scanning them for ideas for television projects. I heard the voices of my friends and engaged in conversations. I was not immediately notified of the latest surge in civilian deaths in Iraq or the burgeoning numbers of soldiers who were dying or being maimed. I was able to have conversations with my friends about those events and to think about those events.

We are so engaged with the flow of information from our Blackberries, our computers, from the radio and television screens, that we may know a great deal of facts but we seem to take no time to make personal, intellectual contextual sense of all of it because we are so busy getting facts we have no time to absorb the meaning of those facts. It is a malaise that is running through the bloodstream of the technologically oriented populations of every country. We are so busy dealing with our digital demands and the inbound flow over the digital roads of information; we cannot parse the information or make much sense of it.

Yet we cannot live without these devices unless we want to be contemporary Thoreaus and retreat to our Walden Ponds and ignore the rest of the universe. That is not a luxury life is allowing me right now; I don’t suspect it will ever be. I don’t suspect it will be for very many of us. However, it will be important that I imbed the lesson learned when Tom threatened to rip the Blackberry from me. It is important not just to know the digital flow; it is important to know the person next to you.