For the first few days of my vacation last week, I left my blackberry charging on my parents’ buffet table, next to a decorative blue candle and a handful of golf pencils and tees someone left there. I would scroll through it occasionally, on my way to and from the beach or out for ice cream, dressed in my flip flops and tankini, and breath a sigh of relief when nothing glaring popped up. I did this when my parents weren’t in the room, because aside from their snide remarks about having brought both my iphone and my blackberry on vacation, they hate my blackberry and all blackberries with a passion generally reserved for the people slicing the tops off mountains and dumping huge amounts of oil into the Gulf Coast.
I have a more complicated relationship with my blackberry. On the one hand, I resent the expectation from my workplace that I always be in reach, even on vacation. On the other, in this economy, I feel grateful to have a job that even allows me paid vacation. On the one hand, I truly believe my salary does not warrant regular blackberry vigilance. On the other, I actually like my job and want to keep it and I work in a blackberry-worshipping culture – a co-worker of mine even took hers with her to Europe on a two week vacation.
My approach worked until Wednesday of last week, when after a picnic on the beach and a long afternoon swimming with my mom at one of the beaches of my childhood, I returned to find both my blackberry and my iphone lit up, their lights desperately seeking my attention. My stomach tied in knots, I checked the messages and sure enough, at least by the standards of my workplace, there was an emergency only I could handle, only I knew the right people, had the right material, etcetera. Someone else could have handled this particular emergency -of that I have no doubt – but nobody else wanted to – it is true it would have been much more difficult for any of my colleagues than it would be for me to handle.
I looked at my mom, and the expression on her face made my heart burst into a million sorrowful pieces.
“Does this mean you won’t be able to go to the theater tonight?” She asked. More than one vacation with her has been at least interrupted because of my job.
“No, no, not at all. This is easy, it’s quick!” I lied. “I need an hour, tops.”
Reassured, my mom wandered upstairs to shower and nap, leaving my to my laptop, my phone, and wracking feelings of guilt and irritation.
The truth is, if my parents weren’t so anti-blackberry, I probably wouldn’t have minded putting in a couple of hours of work every day – while I don’t do ecstatic back flips on a regular basis over my job, I mostly like it a lot, and not a lot of people can say that. I have a supportive boss, a great team, and I mean, good lord, we are trying to fight cancer, here. It’s not like I’m in spin for those mountain-top slicing jerks.
But I also recognize that I’ve become grateful for things that, when I first started working ten years ago, were taken for granted. For instance, I’m grateful just to have a job. In quick succession, I am also grateful for paid vacation time, flexible hours and health care, the last of which I pointed out to my parents when we returned from the theater and I opened up my lap top to quickly proof some documents.
“You want your grandchild to have a pediatrician, don’t you? Vaccinations? Check ups?” It was manipulative, but it worked – my parents know way too many people working without health insurance, and have witnessed the consequences. By the end of the week I had nearly had them grateful for the blackberry.
I graduated from college into a booming Clinton economy. College graduates were offered signing bonuses, cars, flex scheduling, lunch rooms decked out with pool tables, video games, free food from vending machines. Companies lured us to work with the promise of free frappes – we didn’t have to worry too often about buying suits because most places encouraged jeans and sweaters as totally appropriate office wear. It was all very post-grunge, pro-internet, transient, Gen-X, Seattle/silicon-valleyish. I’m not going to lie. It fucking rocked.
Now we work for two-percent raises and rising health care deductibles and vacations our co-workers feel free to interrupt because theirs certainly are interrupted in the same way. Everyone is made to feel at once both indispensable and easily expendable – a nobody could handle this project/crisis/situation but you but if you fail to handle it, even if you are praying in an ashram in India, we will fire you – environment.
And that’s for those of us lucky enough to have full-time jobs, with benefits – this speaks nothing about the hundreds of thousands of people cobbling together part time jobs or those not working at all. I know better than to ever think an employer will offer me free frappes and a video-game equipped lunch room again – and that’s okay – it was all a bit over the top. But I hope someday we manage to reach a mysterious, happy middle ground, where those who want and need to work have jobs to apply for, and those jobs not only offer basic benefits, like vacation days and health insurance, but allow workers to leave their cell phones behind them a few days each year.