Back in the early days of the web I was just a dealer. And I followed the advice I got from the movie Scarface: Don't get high on your own supply. I used the web as a tool to be more efficient at achieving goals I had set for myself in the outside world. I blogged, I created sites, I worked with a bunch of interesting start-ups.
Don't get me wrong. I dabbled in the web as a user. But it was always with the bigger picture in mind. It was always with a purpose. I was in charge. I was in control.
Those days are over. Like Tony Montana, I didn't follow the advice about getting hooked on the product. As the realtime, social web has erupted, so too has my transition from being a dealer to being a dealer and a hardcore user. I've been denying this reality for years. I easily convinced myself that I wasn't the Nurse Jackie of the internet. I told myself I was just taking a little taste to make sure I understood the product I was serving out to others -- the civilians, the suckers. But it was a lie.
The other day, after spending my usual ten to twelve hours in front of this laptop I decided to restart my machine. I checked my email. I refreshed my Tweetie. I double-checked Facebook. I loaded Google Reader to make sure I was entirely up to date on all the news from Stanley Mcchrystal's interview fallout to the number of gallons of crude still bubbling into the Gulf to the latest legal wrangling over Gary Coleman's will to Sandra Bullock's backstage reception at the MTV Movie Awards. Finally, after a quick check of my realtime blog stats, I took a deep breath and pressed the restart button.
Within five seconds, I picked up my iPhone and checked my email.
Suddenly self-aware, I paused. I looked at my sweat-beaded reflection in the still darkened laptop screen and I realized that yes, I am high on my own supply. I used the next couple minutes of restart time for some personal reflection about the way the internet now controls me and how, as I've written here before, I went from using a tool to being one.
A few weeks ago I was hosting my son's fourth birthday party at an old school arcade. We were running short on quarters, so I went to throw a few dollars in the change machine. While I waited for my bills to become change, I pulled my iPhone out of my pocket and checked my email. It was Sunday morning. It was my son's birthday party.
I often fall asleep to audiobooks. That leaves my iPhone on my nightstand. Recently, while my wife and I spent the sunrise hours cuddling and joking with our kids, I heard the vibration of an incoming email. I rolled over and checked it.
In the last year, I haven't driven a commute of more than 15 minutes -- or walked more than five -- without opening at least one app on my iPhone.
Last weekend, everyone in my house heard what sounded like a deep breathing sound in our kitchen. Then I open the door and I heard it in the backyard too. I started to get nervous. It was the kind of sound that would provide an appropriate backdrop to a horror movie that was just about to get scary. I walked to the front of my driveway. I explored the garage. I put my ear to heating ducts and water pipes. Everywhere, I heard the sound. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. I ran back into the house to tell the kids to pack a bag, we were getting out of there. Then my daughter pointed to my pocket. I reached in and pulled out my iPhone on which I had inadvertently opened the Balloonimals app which makes a blowing noise until you start the game.
Suddenly I knew what Tony Montana meant when he said, "Say hello to my little friend."
At the moment, I felt stupid. But upon reflection, I realized that the breathing was real. My iPhone is alive. I hear it breathing right now. Do you hear yours?
I went from being the Tony Montana who came to Miami with nothing and worked his way to the top through a combination of sheer will, toughness and a knack for avoiding chainsaws, to being the Tony Montana who was unconsciously fantasizing about his sister and yelling obscenities to an empty room while soaking neck-deep in a cocaine-fueled bubble bath.
The realtime web has become a habit. It's a twitch. I do it without thinking. More importantly, when I succumb to the reflex of checking it every few minutes or seconds, I do so at the expense of thinking. When is the last time you stood in line at a bank without checking your iPhone? What about waiting for a long stoplight or sitting at a restaurant counter? Those moments, now dominated by the internet reflex must have been used for something else before all this technology climbed into our pockets. What were we thinking about when we had all that extra time?
I don't remember. But I'm pretty sure it was more important than all these updates I habitually check.
When the WiFi went down during the official iPhone 4 demo, didn't you sort of wish Steve Jobs would turn to the crowd and say, "You know what, let's just talk."
But that could have never happened. We know from his late night email exchanges with customers that Steve Jobs is no longer just a dealer either.
Is there a pill for this twitch or a salve to slow this reflex? I don't know. While I search, I hear the constant repetition of an updated version of another Scarface quote.
You gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the women.
Then you get the iPhone.
Read More From Dave Pell at his blog
Tweetage Wasteland: Confessions of an Internet Superhero