Round-the-clock drives people round the bend

24/7A list I follow pointed me to a Jan. 9 article in The New York Times which predicts a new generation that expects instant replies to its queries for information. The author, Brad Stone, believes this is the generation his 2-year-old belongs to, a generation that will view even the current 20-somethings as “Old Fogies” when it comes to information technology.

Stone quotes Larry Rosen, a professor of psychology at California State University, Dominguez Hills, who has written “Rewired: Understanding the iGeneration and the Way They Learn.”

Dr. Rosen said that the newest generations, unlike their older peers, will expect an instant response from everyone they communicate with, and won’t have the patience for anything less.

“They’ll want their teachers and professors to respond to them immediately, and they will expect instantaneous access to everyone, because after all, that is the experience they have growing up,” he said.

I’ve got news for Rosen and Stone. People who expect instant responses have been around for centuries. They’re called “tyrants.” They can also be known as “bosses” and “clients” (or even “spouses”) to those unwary or unwise enough to get involved with them.

I’ve had some amusing experiences along those lines recently. All too recently. Last night there was a message left on my phone at 7 p.m. by a businesswoman I’d never met saying that she wanted to talk with me about doing some writing for her website. In the message, she asked me to call her back later in the evening. “I work from 7 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week — this project is so important,” she said in a highly dramatic tone. “You can call me any time, so we can get started as soon as possible.”

I called her back this morning, on my way to a meeting in Olympia. It took quite a bit of conversation to politely get her to hear that I was saying “no” to working on her Very Important project. What I didn’t tell her, though I was sorely tempted, was that it was not my current busy schedule, or the quality of her project, that prompted my firm “no.” What turned me off was her insane approach to the project. Clients who don’t have any balance between work, friends/family, and play in their own lives will never understand that I insist on having that balance in my life.

I am sensitive to the balance issue because of a bizarre experience I had a few weeks ago. (NOTE: Details are changed to protect identities.) I was working with an out-of-state client on a long-range project that involves routine phone meetings. He emailed me saying that, hey, he had some free time the morning of Thanksgiving Day, so why didn’t we do an hour-long phone meeting then?

I didn’t know whether to be more astonished by someone asking to have a routine, hour-long meeting on Thanksgiving than I did that he hadn’t even acknowledged in the request that there might be something unusual about expecting me to be available on a major national holiday that focuses on friends and family.

It felt awkward to be reminding him that, er, I had plans, so would not be available for a Thanksgiving meeting.

This rant has a happy ending. I don’t believe that Stone’s daughter and her toddler friends are going to grow up to be tyrants and demand that everyone be available to them all the time. They’ll learn that some things are worth waiting for. And that some things, by virtue of being demanded rudely, will cease being available at all.