KAREN KISSANE YOU always find him in the bathroom at parties – alone, except for his Blackberry. Graeme Samuel, head of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, tries at first to argue that he does not use his Blackberry when he is out for dinner. There is a guffaw in the background, and the man in the car with him – Ian Smith, of public relations company Gavin Anderson and Co, and a fellow Blackberry addict – says: “No, you just go into the bathroom!”
Samuel laughs and confesses that it’s true. If he’s out socially and needs to check phone messages or emails or news developments, he takes off for a private moment with the little machine that is an office in a pocket. “We all do it. People must wonder if you’ve got a physical problem, to be going to the bathroom every 15 minutes.”
Samuel also gets out of bed at 2.30 every morning to check the 60 or so news clippings that will have landed in his Blackberry. His body clock just wakes him at that time anyway, he says, so he uses the wakefulness for half an hour to get himself across the day’s developments, think through responses and email any colleagues who need forewarning of issues. Then he goes back to bed until 5.30am. “I’ve got myself prepared for the day, I know what’s coming through. If I get an early morning call from the media, I am well prepared,” he says.
But Samuel does set limits on the torrent of electronic communication. His work mobile number always goes directly through to a human answering service that pages him with messages. He can then decide whether to respond in person, or whether to direct the call to a colleague. “It wouldn’t be possible in the role I have got otherwise. You would get calls day and night.”
Ian Smith also says the Blackberry helps him stay on top of things, but acknowledges the downside of its pleasures: “The danger is that you become obsessed. I have been accused of that by my better half. There was an infamous moment a couple of months ago, about a quarter past twelve, when my wife woke up and said, ‘What are you doing?’ And I said ‘Nothing’, which was not technically true because I was sending an email to someone. It’s sort of like being a naughty schoolboy, having a lolly in class and not wanting anyone to see you.”
First published in The Age. See also: The Person You Called Is Switched Off.