Question: Mannners issues aside, if you can stay constantly in touch with your job, family, friends, and all, should you feel obligated to do so?
My introduction to the "constant contact" life came in the late 1990s on a trip to a major city in the Eastern Time Zone for an academic conference. Nobody at that conference was really into cell phones, but my friend Bill and I didn't spend our entire time at the conference.
We'd been good boys all our professional careers — or mostly — and after Bill and I delivered our papers we took a day off to visit with another friend — I'll call him "Tom" — who was in town as one of two actually-working executive producers on a substantial movie.
The day on set was really neat, and Bill and I took Tom out to a fancy restaurant for dinner: a very fancy, significantly expensive restaurant for an excellent meal that was interrupted several times when Tom said, "I have to take this call."
Most of the calls were on business from people on the West Coast who didn't know Tom was "back East" — or who'd forgotten or who were his boss and didn't much care where he was or what time it was there. A couple calls were from family members, and their "business" was far from urgent.
One upside was that Tom's business was busy. The family upside primarily was it was nice that Tom's wife and kids missed him and he missed them, and they could talk; Tom's kids asked for help with problems they could probably handle on their own but Tom was pleased to be asked about. The general downside was that our meal was interrupted; the more specific downside with the kids was they really were both nice to Tom in asking his help and, just a bit, imposing on him.
Whether or not you think Tom's wife was also imposing depends mostly on whether you see "togetherness" as an absolute value or believe that there's a right to "guys'/gals' night out," where individuals in committed relationships should act as individuals and not as half of a couple.
To me, anyway, Tom's cell phone looked simultaneously like a great convenience and comfort and, as I later muttered to Bill, "an electronic leash."
Personally, I feel ambiguous on an appropriate answer to my initial question. I think I have a right to be free of my cell phone whenever I want to be; and I feel guilty when I miss a call from an associate or friend. Just because I can stay in "constant contact" doesn't mean that I have to; but I feel uncomfortable when I don't.
I also felt mildly annoyed when I had lunch with Tom yesterday and he had to take a couple of calls; and, at the same time, I rather envied him.
It's convenient to be able to do business at all hours, 24/7, as they say; and it is a pain in the ass if your boss wants you on call at all hours of the day and night.
It's nice that so many families nowadays have a great deal of "togetherness"; and smothering togetherness may be one reason that marriage is on the decline and US divorce is still common. It's one thing to say, "I'm always there for you"; it's another when that always starts getting literal.
"Only connect …" was E. M. Forster's epigraph for his novel Howards End (1910), and there's much to be said for connection with other people, one's society, the economy, and the world. Nowadays, though, there's also much to be said for "Turn off the goddamn cell phone, and enjoy a bit of solitude"; fairly often, actually, "Just disconnect."