Technology Hiatus

  • by , May 15, 2008

Announcement: Two weeks ago, I officially graduated from college. Feel free to send me a congratulatory e-card, particularly any of the ones with Hoops and Yoyo. They're my favorite.

As I assume many of you have also graduated from college, you know that after your final year you're ready for a break. Well, ideally, I would like to have flown myself to the Pacific Northwest for a week of isolation. Just me, the rain, a book and the delightful smell of Seattle's fish market lingering in the air. But, as a broke college student, I do not have the luxury of whisking myself away to a relaxing remote location.

So, you ask, what is my solution? Technology boycott, I say.

Allow me to elaborate. Although a technology hiatus was especially necessary after graduation, this has not been the only time I've taken one. In fact, looking back, I've discovered a pattern in my life over the past four years. After every 16 week semester, I refuse to check my email for as long as possible. I remove my cell phone from its proverbial hip clip, leave it on silent and out of temptation's grasp. I spend most of my days reading and fighting off the guilt of ignoring some VIPs in my life.

All in all, I usually last about a week. During this time, I feel refreshed. I allow myself to be selfish and off of the "electronic leash." Now don't get me wrong, I love the conveniences of technology. But those very conveniences consume my life from time to time. We are so readily available to everyone that I find it exhausting. These days if I do not respond to someone's email, phone call or text message within an hour or so I suffer from immense self-imposed guilt.

As a result, the idea of having a phone with internet capabilities, along with about a million other features, terrifies me. I don't want to be connected 24/7. I don't want to be able to check my email whenever and wherever I am, because I know I will. I have come to enjoy the quiet moments in my life and am convinced that Blaise Pascal had it right when he said - "All men's miseries derive from not being able to sit quiet in a room alone."

So my question is: Have we come to expect too much from one another? Granted, I do not want to return to the days of the pony express, but if we have the technology are we allowed to turn it off? Sometimes I feel pressured socially and professionally to be connected at all times, primarily so I do not offend anyone. Perhaps I am simply ignoring the reality of a changing world and should hop on the fast track before it leaves me in the dust. I think the next several months, while I work in a media-heavy atmosphere, will greatly change my perspective of technology. I'll be tracking my change of thought regularly through my blogs, so if you're interested, stay tuned for more.

1 comment about "Technology Hiatus".
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  1. Andy Havens from OCLC, May 19, 2008 at 9:02 a.m.

    Well... you can either give up various bits of technology, or get a different attitude about it.

    First, ask yourself... if you sent someone (with whom you had a good relationship) an email (for example), and they didn't reply for a few days, would you assume there was a problem? That they were snubbing you or being rude? Probably not. You'd probably think that they were away or unavailable or -- god forbid -- had some other, more pressing issues to deal with. Why not give other people the benefit of the doubt, and assume that they won't be cheesed if you're off the grid for an hour, a day or a week?

    Second, you can mitigate many of the technology issues by having different contact methods for different people. I don't answer work email while on vacation (though I can on my Palm), but I do check my personal cell phone's voice mail. It's how family and friends would get through in an emergency, and my staff knows that if there's a really important issue, they can ping me that way. They don't, unless it's super urgent. We also have a "don't email people while they're on vacation" rule.

    Third, I suggest changing your mindset from "gatherer" to "hunter." Since the invention of agricultural and, even more so, since the Industrial Age, we are trained from birth to concentrate on one thing at a time. Anything that isn't the round peg we're putting in the round hole qualifies as a distraction. Factory work, the metaphor for the industrial revolution, is the ultimate "gatherer" activity; you find the one thing, and do the one thing with it.

    We've relied less and less on hunting ever since we domesticated plants and animals. But hunting requires what is called, disparagingly, Continuous Partial Attention (CPA). In our new information environment, we don't know where or when important information may come from. Or from who. To turn off a source of data is akin to a hunter saying, "I'm just going to use my eyes and look for spoor... never mind listening for noises." You can't do that.

    The rule of the hunter with regards to data: find then prioritize. Gatherers prioritize then work at finding. Often the prioritization is provided by others, too.

    Be a hunter. Take it all in, discard what you don't need, prioritize the rest, do not fear the flood of information, but see it as your natural habitat.

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