Roaming Charges

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.

Discussion

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  • http://www.columbia-re.com Brett Frosaker

    Great post. I've been thinking alot lately along the same lines. This market we're in lends itself to inward reflection. Running parallel to my current mission of survival, is my pet project of bending time. My theory simply put is as follows; time being relative and thus variable travels at a speed in direct relation to your mind or thoughts. Stop lights, cab rides, and blue skies are all opportunities to bend time to a crawl. Between these spaces are where we enjoy life. Right now, I'm in my garage smoking a cigar, bending time.
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    • http://blog.redfin.com GlennKelman

      The neurologist Oliver Sacks has wondered if insects that live for only a few days experience time at a different rate…

      • http://www.columbia-re.com Brett Frosaker

        So when we are sitting on a hot stove, we must be tapping into our inner
        insect. :)
        If humanity were less consumed with materialism, we might refocus our
        time and resources on exploring the demensions of time and discovering how
        we can control those interactions with our lives. I imagine a heightened
        group conciousness as the ultimate internet. Unfortunately, our greatest
        techological acheivments have been a result of humanity's aim of self
        destruction. But, there is still hope that acheivments in understanding
        demensions of time rests not just on technological acheivments, but mainly
        on achieving a higher conciousness. Wouldn't that really be the ultimate in
        greater human/technological achevment?

        Don't get me wrong, I like my car, houses, and flat panel hooked up to my
        computer. I just long for more.

        Brett

      • http://www.columbia-re.com Brett Frosaker

        So when we are sitting on a hot stove, we must be tapping into our inner insect. :)
        If humanity were less consumed with materialism, we might refocus our time and resources on exploring the demensions of time and discovering how we can control those interactions with our lives. I imagine a heightened group conciousness as the ultimate internet. Unfortunately, our greatest techological acheivments have been a result of humanity's aim of self destruction. But, there is still hope that acheivments in understanding demensions of time rests not just on technological acheivments, but mainly on achieving a higher conciousness. Wouldn't that really be the ultimate in greater human/technological achevment?

        Don't get me wrong, I like my car, houses, and flat panel hooked up to my computer. I just long for more.

        Brett

      • http://www.columbia-re.com Brett Frosaker

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  • Alex Loddengaard

    This is why I don't use Twitter! So many of my cycling friends tweet during their freakin' bike rides. Put the phone away and enjoy the outdoors!

    Good post, Glenn. Speaking of cycling, it's been too long since your last Headlands raid ;).

    • http://blog.redfin.com GlennKelman

      Just now, I'm feeling a little giddy about iPhone 4 so I can't say I want to throw my phone in the garbage, run to the beach, and dive into the ocean. I just try to balance being present with being connected…

  • Janelle Saylor

    As a working mom (what a phrase – what mom DOESN'T work?), the issue of existing vs. living is always a battle waging in my head. And with my kids either of the age, or coming upon the age of Xbox, cell phones, IM and of course the internet, it's a triple whammy. By the way, Glenn, you never did answer the cabbie's question of quantity. At least not in this post…;-)

    • http://blog.redfin.com GlennKelman

      Great point Janelle, I was just telling a writer yesterday to pitch a book on how to raise your kids in the digital age… it would be a best-seller. Maybe you could write it (in your copious spare time)?

  • http://www.commoncraft.com leelefever

    Great post Glenn. I sometimes fear that what appears to be busy-ness is really an addiction or at least a habit. Sachi and I have always tried to maintain a lifestyle through Common Craft that's manageable and productive. We've made decisions that work to keep stress and pressure in-check. Not hiring employees is a big part of the strategy.

    However, even though lifestyle is a priority, I spend a lot of time checking email, twittering, reading news, etc. At the time, it feels right. I'm genuinely interested in what my network has to say and engaging in it on a cab ride (to use your example) seems perfectly normal and even productive. But from a higher level view, I can see that it's a bit of a cop-out. I don't *need* that information – Common Craft isn't likely to suffer if I don't check email and Twitter every 10 minutes. It's a habit that has become so much a part of my life that I'm not sure how to do without it – and I think that's something I need to work on.

    I really appreciate your post because it reminds me that there are choices and what feels right may simply be a habit that, over the long run, could have a more negative impact than being unavailable from time-to-time.

  • Wkelman

    Remember the New Haven cabbie (elderly Greek) who shouted at us: ” I LOVE WOMEN! I LOVE FUCK!”

    • http://blog.redfin.com GlennKelman

      How could I forget?

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