BlackBerry in Tow, This Guy's Always Ready to Scroll

By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 31, 2005

It's 9:05 a.m. and Samuel A. Simon has just finished his first meeting of the day. The businessman's eyes barely look up as he crosses the parking lot, head down, feet shuffling. Every ounce of his attention is focused on the little blue gadget that has become a fixture in his life.

Simon wishes he could say he hadn't checked his BlackBerry -- a handheld e-mail device -- during the meeting, but that would be a lie.

He is, he admits, an addict. And it's not just the BlackBerry. Simon doesn't leave the house without his cell phone, personal organizer and laptop computer. Gadgets line the pockets of his briefcase, and chargers crowd the countertops of his kitchen in McLean. The search for the next new thing that will do it all never ends, and maybe part of him likes it that way.

As society's quest to become more mobile and more connected marches on, the consumer electronics industry has coughed up round after round of products to meet our every networking need. For most people, the parade of new gadgets is a sideshow that merits just peripheral attention -- a working cell phone and moderately fast Internet connection are often enough to suffice. But some take their technology much more seriously. For them, it is an obsession and a way of life. Their tools become extensions of their being, changing the way they work and play and communicate.

Spend a day with Simon, who runs the District-based public advocacy firm Issue Dynamics Inc., and watch modern man assimilate this new digital world.

During his morning meeting, Simon receives an e-mail from his assistant. There's a problem with his plane ticket for an upcoming trip to Israel, it said. Back in his car, he whips out his cell phone to dial the office and check his voice mail, then transfers to his assistant to give her instructions on how to handle the plane ticket. Next to his phone rests a device that plays the audio versions of cable television, allowing him to listen to the evening news in his car.

Simon needs to get to Reagan National Airport but has never driven there from this location in Fairfax, so he plugs the destination into the satellite navigation system that sits on the dashboard of his car. Soon, an electronic voice is guiding him through every turn.

Almost without exception, Simon, 60, says the impact of such technology has been positive. As a kid, he struggled enormously with handwriting, a problem he says verges on a disability. When he got access to a typewriter, it was as if the clouds had parted, he recalls -- taking notes and writing papers were no longer a nightmare. And from then on, he was hooked. (His original IBM Selectric typewriter is tucked away in a basement room, a sort of graveyard for technologies past.)

Waiting for the airport parking lot shuttle, Simon immediately takes his BlackBerry out of his breast pocket, scrolls through e-mails and types speedy responses with his thumbs. Four meetings are on his calendar this day, two in Fairfax and two in New York. None of them has anything to do with his company. Simon sits on the boards of half a dozen community organizations, is a member of several more and is about to star in a McLean community theater production. Today, and many other days, Simon must manage his business from a distance.

"There's no question in my mind that I could not do it all without the flexibility and accessibility of this technology," he says.

At the airport security gate, Simon brags that he's got the clearance process down to a science. Cell phone, BlackBerry, digital recorder and personal digital organizer are placed in various pockets of his suit coat, which is folded neatly on top of his laptop and placed in a bucket separate from the bucket holding his briefcase and shoes. He saunters through without a hitch.

Seated on the plane, Simon immediately puts his laptop on the seat next to him and takes out his personal organizer, a device called a Sony Clie. On the Clie, he keeps a digital version of his daily calendar and an address book, among other records. He goes over his agenda for the day and then taps on his laptop to read a few industry newsletters he downloaded the previous evening.

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