Is Social Media making me crazy?

August 15, 2013 — 38 Comments

It’s been a rough few days around here lately … suddenly, and without any warning at all, there was a death in the Life of an Architect family. I have been struggling to cope with the death of the closest thing this happily married man has to a girlfriend. The worst part about this loss is that I am directly responsible for the death. It was accidental, maybe that makes it better but no matter how you look at it, I am responsible.

Hi everyone. My name is Bob and I am a cellphone killer.


I dropped my iPhone into the pool

You may think that this is not that big of a deal, and if you had told me that I would lose my cellphone – even for a few days – I would have told you “No big deal, I can handle it.”

I didn’t handle it very well. In fact, I have been freaking out about it since it happened. This last Sunday, I went to the pool with my family and I was loaded up with towels and floaties … and I was obviously wearing my bathing suit. Sitting in what you might call a back pocket of my swim suit was my cellphone. And there it stayed until 5 minutes after I had jumped into the pool

Bob (Dad):“Ahhh, the water is feeling good today. 5 minutes in the pool and I’m finally starting to cool off.”

Kate [pointing down]: “Daddy, is that your phone?”

Bob (Dad) [heart stopping, looking down]: “Noooooooooooooooo”

[zoom out from distraught man – fade to black, and scene]

nuclear bomb test explosion

That’s pretty much what happened and in the 4 1/2 days since I killed my cellphone, I have been digitally grounded. Before I get a hundred comments or emails, yes, I did thoroughly dry off my phone and I stuck it in a bag of rice for 2 days .. it is completely, and utterly dead.

You might be thinking to yourself “Big deal” and you might be right. Other than this being a costly error on my part, it’s hardly unique. The reason I decided to write about it had to do with how dependent I have become on my phone. Truthfully, it’s not really fair to call it a phone, out of all the things I can do with this thing, talking on the phone ranks towards the bottom. This “phone” is really my mobile office and I use it constantly throughout most days to do my job – both my architectural day job and my night job writing and maintaining the Life of an Architect Empire website.

If I think about all the ways I use my phone, the camera feature might be the most important. Not only do I document projects with it, but I take pictures of things that I see that I find inspiring. Almost all the pictures I’ve used on this site over the last 2 years have been taken with my cellphone. I’ve even written posts on how I use my cellphone camera – Architects and Photography – and Documenting with Photos – in which I talk about how I take these pictures, how I edit them, what I use them for, etc.

Taking construction progress photos is part of the process I go through on all of my projects, and since I’ve started writing posts on Life of an Architect where I publish pictures for 8,000 people (give or take) a day to look at, I have become even more aware and self-conscious of the photos I take. ≈ from Documenting with Photos, Life of an Architect

I also use my phone to connect me back in to the people who read this site. Since you are reading this post, I know I am preaching to the converted, but the manner in which people are communicating with one another is changing. I’m not going to pass any judgments as to whether or not this is a good thing, it’s simply a statement of fact. I like talking about what I do for a living and what architects do in general that adds value to the society at large. In order to bring this message to “the people”, you have to go where those people are – which means other platforms like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+ and on and on – there are literally thousands of places. The demographics of the people in each on of these places is different and the conversations I have with people who are on those sites reflect those differences. Since I have a real job that has real obligations and deadlines associated with it, I tend to jump on and off these different platforms whenever I have a few minutes. Waiting in line at the grocery store? Good time to hop in to Twitter. Filling the car up with gas? I can respond to some comments on Google+. Just finished building a new model of a house I am working on? Let’s get that on Instagram …

I think you get the point.

My cellphone number for the first time in my career is now on my business cards – something that in the past I was reticent to provide. Despite my fondness for talking, I don’t really like talking on the phone and I really, really don’t like talking on the phone if you’re a contractor calling me when I’m trying to eat dinner with my family. Things are different now, I wear a hat that has “Owner” on it and as such, I make myself available pretty much all the time. It doesn’t take long for people to stop calling you at the office (where they might not get you) and start calling you directly on your cellphone. It’s an adjustment I am trying to get used to but I think it’s going to take some time. There have been approximately 20 calls that I’ve missed from people who, at worst, thought I was trying to avoid them, and at best, think I am poor at returning phone calls – and these are only the ones I know of.

I know that I’ve brought a lot of these complications on myself and not everyone runs a website like mine, but even so, I don’t think there are too many of us who would be immune to the impacts losing the use of your cellphone brings. I’m not talking about “unplugging” for a few days while you go on vacation – I’m talking about what happens when you are suddenly without with out your cellphone for a few days. It’s an itch you can’t scratch. Ever driven off to work and left your cellphone at home? How many of us have turned around to go get it once you realized you forgot it?

I don’t wear a watch – never have. I attribute this to the fact that I am 25% Cherokee Indian and I can always look at the sun and determine what time it is [don’t worry about the fact that I get somewhat claustrophobic wearing watches, rings, etc. – that’s perfectly normal, lot’s of people are like that]. If I’m in a meeting or someplace where I have to mind my time, I can simply use my phone. Grilling some super thick steak on the grill – I use the clockwatch on my phone. Want to get a message to my wife who seems to sit in meetings 25 hours a day? I can send her a text since she can’t check her voice mail. Run into a buddy while waiting in line at the bagel store – I can pull up my website and show them latest project photos.

I simply don’t know how architects who either don’t have a phone or worse, have a flip phone (c’mon people, it’s time to commit to the fact it’s not 1998 anymore) go about doing their jobs. I know that I am an extreme case and most people don’t use their cellphone to the extent that I do – but I would bet you use it a lot and are more dependent on it that you might care to admit. In my defense – not because I think I need to defend myself but trying address some comments I would imagine hearing – a large percentage of the activities I do on my phone relate in some capacity or another back to my job. While my Life of an Architect Facebook Fan page is pretty active, my personal Facebook page is a ghost town in comparison. I don’t text people other than my wife or the folks back at my office … I don’t even play games on my phone. I make more phone calls than emails, and I much prefer meeting face to face. I am not a social media shut-in despite any apparent evidence to the contrary.

Should I be concerned that I am so dependent on my phone? Am I so extreme as to be on the fringe or is this the direction that everyone seems to be heading? I’m really curious

…. so is my therapist.


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  • Lynne Knowlton

    Hey Bob !! I have been stalking errrrh reading your blog posts for days. It’s awesome! The house may even crumble around me and I won’t notice a thaaaang. 🙂

    I feel your pain mister 🙂 We might be twins. Except you have hairier legs than me. I hope.

    I LOVE my iDevices. I was once on a train in Europe for 2 hours with 6 Apple Geniuses. I had my own genius bar. That was, officially, my heaven on earth.

    Voicemail = Jail time. I would rather spend time in a jail cell than listening to voice mail. *Yawn*

    Have an epic day. You are d’bomb dot com !

    Lynne from Design The Life You Want to Live 🙂

    • Thanks Lynne – you are to kind with your words (although, I’m thinking that besides my legs being hairier, I’m also hoping that my upper body strength is a little greater)

      Don’t undervalue voicemail, it’s great to be able to sort through the needs of others without having to actually talk to anyone.

      Cheers (and thank for the comment)

  • samwalusimbi

    As a young person I think that in the near future those without smartphones and those without a social media presence will be literally “left behind”. The world is moving towards ‘smart networking’ if I may say, and not learning how to adjust ones life to it will turn oneself into a dinosaur quickly. For older generations, perhaps theres not so much of a need to change but still the effects (of not updating oneself to the current needs and ways of life) will be felt.

  • Marc

    If not for my mobile phone, I don’t think my 15-year-old would talk with me… TEXT with me… as often as we do. The great generational bridge!

  • Tim Barber

    I have a Galaxy Nexus and I wear a watch. I love technology, but constantly leave my phone in the charger in my office. I have been around long enough to know that in the pre-cell phone era I survived without it and I can now. Yes I like to have my cell phone with me, but I don’t panic if I don’t. I agree we now carry small computers we talk on, rather than carry phones that have a few applications on them. I also always have a back up phone in the office. I buy them off of ebay and as a one man office I can say “them” because of you have children, you will soon find out you replace their phones much more often than you replace your own. I also use Google Voice. It is set up to call my computer, cell phone and office phone. I have put that number on my new business card and have changed my title block. Instead of having “office”, “cell”, “fax” and now have “Voice” and “Fax”. Once you get your clients calling the Google Voice number, then you can change which numbers it forwards the calls to, so If you change you cell phone provider the number that your clients calls never changes. On the bleeding edge of technology, living at my own pace.

  • AndrewM

    An important question arising from this incident: why the heck aren’t mobile (cell) ‘phones water resistant, at least down to, say, 2 metres (7 feet)? My watch is. Or, if that is impossible or prohibitively expensive, how hard would it be to fit a sensor that makes the phone ring an alarm tone and vibrate like crazy if it comes in contact with water? You could use the same 5c sensor that is fitted to airline life jackets.

  • Lee Borrero

    Hey! A lot of people use flip phones. Lower the elevation of your nose.

    • it’s not a snooty thing – at least I don’t mean it that way. It’s an observation based on outdated technology. The flip phones are phones and only phones. The newer phones (an by newer I mean post-2007) are really handheld computers that can also make phone calls. While I don’t advocate bleeding edge technology, now you can get a smart phone for free.

  • Alexandra Williams

    Forget the phone – I like the part about your Empire!

  • Calvin

    I chose to get a new slider phone instead of an iPhone, despite the fact that I REALLY want an iPhone. I waste too much time online and having that access anywhere I go would just make it worse. I’m leaving my computer at home and bringing just a sketchbook to do some work in an attempt to get something done today. Also, I have no important work obligations that a smartphone would help with.

    • then it sounds like you have made the right decision – I imagine that is where we should all strive to be, right in the sweet spot between “want” and “need”

  • Bill Reeves

    Wow, I can’t imagine dropping my phone in the water. I have always been more concerned with dropping my phone. I’ve always used the standard bumpers with my phone until I read an article written by a contractor who got a “Ballistic” case. He dropped his from 6′ and nothing happened. It is also supposed to keep it dry, but I’m not sure about how it would do at the bottom of a pool.

    I work with three other architects here. Two are flip phone people and the third has no cell phone and is proud of it. I think it has something to do with bad cell reception near his home and people on welfare who receive phones for free that are provided by the government and use them to barter. He has left for meetings and we got a call that the meeting was canceled. He found out the hard way. His wife has to call the office and usually has to talk to the talkative partner for 5 to 10 minutes first. My wife and I do more texting than anything else.

    I don’t mind contractors calling my cell. I have lots of roll-over minutes. It sure is handy and a real extension of the office. When I take picture at the job site, the picture move from my cell to the laptop and are then easily transffered to the network.


    • Hi Bill,

      What you described is exactly how I see things from my side. There are people who use the tools, there are people who defiantly don’t use the tools, and the people who seem to not have figured out that there are tools. Boiled down to those categories, I like where I’m at.


      • Bill Reeves

        I agree. Some people call them toys. I used my iPhone to measure a roof slope yesterday. Try that with a flip phone.

  • MarvinOne

    “or worse, have a flip phone” OUCH! I have a flip phone…why you ask, it makes calls, it has text and a camera (rarely used), it was free, I pay $40/month for service which means I can afford my new sports car . Also, I’m low on the architecture list so I’m always in the office, next to email and my office phone. And no one is contacting me after hours about work anyway.
    That said, I know those who are out and about all the time are able to stay in touch with their business and since you have your digital empire to run, I get that it’s a useful time management tool for you. Breathe, you’ll have a phone again soon and life will once again be normal!

    • Hah! Okay, fair enough, point received. I’ve had my phone so long that the data plan I have is no longer available but I’m grandfather in for as long as I stay with AT&T. I pay less than $40 and have unlimited everything. Every time I go in to upgrade my equipment, the clerk always says: “Wow – you have THAT phone and data plan … You know, you should never leave AT&T, nobody has this plan.” I’ve heard it so often now that I believe them.

      There is a creative side to how I use my phone as well – I think I’m lucky because I am able to take advantage of those creative pursuits by having a place to house the fruit of those endeavors. That’s one of the upsides to having your own website 😉

  • Mark Mc Swain

    As to social media, that’s a mixed bag. I do not twitter, not because I’m worried that I could not generate enough comment, but becasue I’m all too sure I could, if at high volume and low quality content. I’m not on instagram, if for non-germane reasons.

    Facebook suggested Bob’s personal page, but, I have only connected to LoaA, as such personal f/b pages are just that, personal. As constrasted to LinkedIn, which is more clearly about one’s business identity. Even though a person who is connected i nthe one could clearly seek out connections in the other.

    • If someone whats to contact me – from places far and wide – I am pretty easy to get a hold of. I’ve never really understood why those people would want to friend me on Facebook – they’ve never met me. As a result, I probably have 500+ invites on my personal page and my only requirement is that I’ve met you at least once in real life. That’s not really setting the requirement bar very high but there you have it.

  • Mark Mc Swain

    Well, I resisted getting a clever phone for a long time–bad enough to have Uncles Google & wiki a screen tab away while at desk or lap top. But, when I needed to be able to text as well as have photo capability, I gave in (if to android, not iOS)
    So, “dependant”? Probably no more than any of us were to needing $5K of computer on a desktop; or room for a tilitying table made from a 3068 HC door; or of sketchbooks beyond number.
    As to the tech, one thing I think we may see is that our industry will adopt smaller (3-4″ format) phones, and include midsize (8-12″) tablets. The former will be as our watches, rings, etc.–just part of us. The latter will be our “work” link.
    I’m pretty sure we will get a “snap back” on having our private lives so intertwines with our public/professional ones. The technology for one device to be “two” phones exists now. The ability of one or both of those to be “off” or “Sorry I’m away, leave a message” also already exists. Or not, given the number of people who seem to be willing to gab (hope it’s only talk) in public restrooms.

    • I’m with you 100% on this one. And seriously people, don’t talk on your phone while on the toilet … if anything, that’s what texting is for.

  • We’re all dependent on our phones.

    • some more than others I think – probably the people on this site are “super-users” like I would consider myself. Although, “super-users” sounds overly positive and I’m not convinced that it should be :/

  • slemishdesignstudio

    I’m the same Bob, my personal mobile is also my business mobile.
    It’s many benefits (cost saving) though it also means you on call 24/7.
    I’m looking at upgrading to the Samsung Galaxy 4….brilliant camera for on site & does what an iPhone does, if not more

    • Mark Mc Swain

      SG4 almost cool enough to get me to replace my SGII, but, I may go with a Galazy tablet, and an HTC phone–only time will tell.

      • slemishdesignstudio

        have just received the S4…really really impressed with it.
        Bob, jump ship 🙂

        Mark, my two girls have the tablets & love them, I’ve an iPad 1 & am upgrading it now to a Galaxy 10.1 tablet – easier to sync for work etc

    • yes – I hear that a lot. I am so entrenched with Apple tech at my house that I’ve drank the koolaid and I’m ready for more!

  • My condolences on your loss. I cracked my screen last week, the first time EVER of damaging a cell phone. It still works 100% and only a barely visible hairline, but I was half way to the store for a replacement before I convinced myself that it was “only” cosmetic.

    • I was telling my daughter how irritated I was and that I wasn’t going to reward my careless behavior by buying a new phone – I would simply get my iPhone3 out and running … except nothing runs on my iPhone 3 anymore.

      Oh well … hello new iPhone 5!

  • Ryan Hansanuwat

    We had a storm a few weeks back here in Austin and my cell service and wifi went out. Even though my phone was working, I had no way to connect. For the few minutes it was out it was terrifying! Suddenly the lifeline that was my phone was just a brick, or gameboy at best. Luckily the service was soon back up, and I immediately had the same thought, “am I too dependent on this thing?”, but as soon as I got back on twitter I forgot the question.

    Also, I don’t like to wear my ring because of claustrophobia as well, so it is common.

    • Hahaa – that’s hilarious. And I’m glad to hear that someone else get’s claustrophobic wearing a ring. It sound ridiculous that small spaces don’t bother me, but watches, rings, – that sort of thing – freaks me out.

  • Ouch. Two things Bob: are you really 1/4 Cherokee Indian? And looking at the sun can damage your eyes. Hopefully by the time you read this you are back in the Social Media Universe to manage your empire.

    • Yes, I really am. Between that the 50% of me that is Norwegian, I am almost indestructible.

      As I type this, my new phone is sitting next to me on the desk updating – life can return to normal shortly!

  • Paul Gerber

    *Gasp* the HORROR! LOL

    I actually did something similar a few years back. Had my phone in my shorts pocket, was cleaning the pool in backyard of the house house I had at the time. I saw something in the shallow end right by the stairs that I couldn’t scoop up with the net so I walked in, grabbed it and walked out.

    As I was walking up to the garage to get something I reached nonchalantly into my pocket to see if anyone had sent me a message. As my hand slid into my pocket I felt the wet fabric and immediately thought…”oh _______!!!!!!!”

    Of course this was on the Saturday before I went on vacation on Monday! I made a reluctant call to one of the Partners in the firm I worked for to explain the situation. He had jumped out of a small boat after his daughter had fallen into the water with his brand new phone in his pocket so he could empathize with me. He told me to go get a new phone before I left for vacation…whewwwwwww!

    Luckily I was eligible for a hardware upgrade so it was only a $100 hit!

    My deepest sympathies for your loss. But on the bright side, it was only an iPhone and not a BlackBerry like I had lost! 😉

    • bazinga!

      I was fortunate in that I was able to get my carrier (AT&T) to waive the remaining year I had on my contract in order to become eligible for the hardware upgrade now so it was (only) a $200 hit. Since I use the cloud, I didn’t loss any data either, it was just the massive inconvenience of replacing it and not being able to do “work as usual”. My new phone is on some FedEx truck out for delivery to me sometime today 🙂

      • Mark Mc Swain

        Even with the cloud, these tales are good cautionaries to back our data up.

        • Camille

          So true…Note to self: must do a back up this week!