Earlier this month, reporter Ellen McCarthy scouted around town with washingtonpost.com photographer Hunter Wilson and caught people in the act of being themselves electronically. Here's what they were doing and why they said they were doing it.
Back from a long night of Fourth of July partying, Sreya Mean of Rockville waits at Union Station for her brother to pick her up. He, however, has become slightly lost. So Mean, 26, uses the cell phone option on her BlackBerry to guide him in.
"It's just so important. If I didn't have this phone, I don't know how anyone would get in touch with me," Mean says. "A lot of my friends have this, too, so we just talk back and forth on e-mail."
The Taylor family -- Robert, 40, Christine, 32, and daughter Kelsey, 12, of Nutley, N.J. -- aren't just looking for a few snapshots for posterity's sake. To fully capture their week-long visit to Washington, the Taylors are using a 35mm film camera, a single-lens reflex digital camera, two digital point-and-shoot cameras and a Sony video camera.
"We brought everything we have, so it's a much heavier load to carry, but it's a much more enjoyable experience," says Robert Taylor.
Back at home after the week-long trip, Christine is filtering through hundreds of pictures the three hobbyists took to compile a scrapbook of the vacation. Best shot? An early morning view of the Korean War Memorial with a slight reflection of the Lincoln Memorial.
Waiting for a train back home to New York, his iPod music player transports nonprofit worker Sean Hamilton back to the good times he had at a wedding two years ago. The loving couple gave each of their guests a CD of their favorite songs -- including more than a little Stevie Wonder -- that Hamilton downloaded onto his music device. The collection has become a personal favorite.
"It entertains me, keeps me occupied," says Hamilton, 36. "It pacifies me."
Daniel Baker, 40, spends his days walking the expanses of the U.S. Capitol. His duty is to ensure that each of the grounds workers is complying with health and safety guidelines, such as wearing hard hats in construction zones. In the past two years he's gone through three hands-free devices that allow him to talk on his cell phone without holding it to his ear. In addition to being convenient, the gadget keeps him in good health.
"It gives me the ability to do multiple tasks at the same time. I can take notes and talk at the same time," Baker says. "And ergonomically, it's much better for your hands and your neck. You're not leaning on your ear the whole time."
The Segway was unveiled in 2001, with much fanfare and projection of its life-altering potential. It certainly altered Bill Main's life. The 63-year-old Annapolis resident quit his job as a telecom consultant two years ago and started a business giving tours in Annapolis and Washington on the vehicles. Segs in the City, he says, is doing fabulously.
"It's a vehicle of the future," Main says, standing in front of his customers, who also float along on Segways. And, he points out, you get fewer blisters.
Main, who started the business because he was enamored with the technology and ready for a life change, says he prefers to walk places on the weekends, just to get a bit of exercise.
Congress is not in session today, so Abel Olivo, 30, a government relations executive, doesn't have to hang around on Capitol Hill. But he has come to a Starbucks near the Hill anyway, rather than drive to his office in Gaithersburg, or work from home, also on the Hill. Usually he pops over because it's the closest place he can get wireless Internet access to check his e-mail when he's between buildings, on the fly. It's also, apparently, a motivational space.
"I feel like if I didn't leave home I wouldn't be as productive because I would do things other than what I have to do," Olivo says. "This is my office away from my other two offices."
It seems that Gina Cimineri has been stood up. The 26-year-old financial planner made an appointment with a client who has yet to appear. No worries, she's got her Treo and, thus, access to address books. Calls can be made, progress will continue.
"This is my world. Seriously. I dropped it a few times -- I thought I was going to cry," Cimineri says of the device that acts as a phone, personal organizer, camera and mobile Internet gadget.
Jawad Issa, 22, is holding a BlackBerry to one ear and a cell phone to another. A sleek Apple iBook laptop sits on the cafe table in front of him. This is not as awful as it seems, the recent Georgetown University graduate explains. His older brother handed him the second phone as he went to pick up their sandwiches. On the other line, he's talking to his younger brother, trying to help him get high school transcripts transferred from the Gaza Strip.
"I used to do a lot of work at home when I was a student, but eventually you can't ever sleep because you want to work all the time," Issa says.
Adam Pheister has chosen to play hooky. The 30-year-old bike messenger swears there's no work around today anyway. So he sits in the park and plays with his BlackBerry. He never carries a phone anymore. All his comrades have similar devices, and they're the only people with whom he really wants to communicate.
"I don't have to conversate forever on this. I can just text something pertinent and get going," Pheister says. "I just e-mailed my gal pal, who is cruising around here. I told her I'm here, in case she wants to have a coffee or something."
Kelsey Taylor, 12, of New Jersey and her parents brought five cameras to document their D.C. visit.
Daniel Baker uses his hands-free cell phone attachment so much he's on his third one.
Kids, don't try this at home: Jawad Issa is talking on one phone while holding the other for his brother.
Luckily for her slightly lost brother, Sreya Mean of Rockville is never far from her BlackBerry phone.