After a day spent at The New York Forum and in a CNBC studio — every desk in the newsroom had a TV, and every TV was tuned to the World Cup, even the one alongside the camera that was supposed to show me only myself — I caught a cab to Newark Airport.
As usual, I hardly looked up from my Aircard-connected laptop until we’d arrived at the departures curb. Walking into the terminal, I realized I hadn’t said a word to my driver beyond relaying our destination.
It hasn’t always been this way. I used to love talking to cabbies. A Mexican-American driver told me he had once been a local prize fighter until he met a teenager named Oscar de la Hoya. I quietly decided not to believe him until he turned to take my fare and I saw how broad his nose had become, like a banana peel squashed on the sidewalk.
A Lithuanian cabbie told me about the Italian supermodels he had dated, and the trysting trips he used to take to Vilnius and Minsk. When I challenged him about the supermodels, he suddenly bellowed: “HOW MANY? HOW MANY?” I stared at him uncomprehendingly. He looked at me as if there were only one quantity truly worth counting, as if numbers themselves had first been invented for this very purpose. “HOW MANY WOMEN HAVE YOU SLEPT WITH?” he said. I told him. You don’t know anything, he concluded, about Italian supermodels.
I learned from another that taking heroin made you realize that your body had been filled with a thousand tiny pains all the time, like “the static of a radio on the wrong station,” from which henceforth you could only be temporarily released.
Needless to say, all this took place when I didn’t have a smart phone, an aircard, a cell phone. I don’t remember the conversations I had when I first got a phone, or the ones I had yesterday for that matter, but I remember the cabbies that came before all that.
Now my conversations are mostly restricted to my own network. And I’m always having them — on email, IM, twitter and then back again to email — in lieu of any type of contemplation. Last story: I once took a drive to Lake Tahoe, at a time in my life when I had to decide whether to come back to Seattle, what to do with my life, whether to get out of a relationship. It was too late for summer hikers, too early for skiers; I was all alone. It was beautiful.
If I had taken that trip now, I would have called every single human being I know, and the day would have whizzed by like any other. But back then, I didn’t have a phone, and so I finally thought through changes I’d been putting off for a while.
Now my days go whizzing by. I get plenty of little things done, in a constant cycle that has become essential to my well-being. Slate has written persuasively about the fascination of searching and finding provided by the Internet, and the New York Times has talked about the loss of serendipity, but no one has quite captured the pleasures of productivity, of getting things done in the back of a cab or while waiting for the bus.
Now I’m not giving up my iPhone any time soon. But sometimes I wonder what dreams might come if I were a little less busy. I wonder if Redfin would be better served if my colleagues and I weren’t so plugged in all the time, and we just thought for a few hours about what we want Redfin to be, or for that matter about God or love or why we’re here and how long we have left.