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Why We Can’t (and Won’t) Disconnect

By on March 30, 2012No Comment
Arnhem NL

Some peace and quiet

This past weekend, I unplugged. It turns out that I did this on the National Day of Unplugging but that was purely coincidental.

Over the past few years, I’ve given much thought to the reasons why people increasingly feel the need to constantly glance at their smartphones, be it for texting, e-mail, news, social networking, or some other purpose.

Recently I was sitting at dinner in the Bay Area with a few people and one of them was glancing furtively at his iPhone. “Be social,” the person sitting across from him said.

And I countered, “But he IS being social, just not with us.”

Whether we like it or not, mankind has achieved a higher degree of connectedness and this is all thanks to a silicon-packed piece of plastic that we carry around in our pockets (the health consequences of which are, incidentally, not entirely clear).

In older days we had the market square, the commons. In fin de siècle Vienna we had the Kaffeehaus (coffee house).

These places were where we went and, in a way, they are where we go today, albeit in a rather virtual fashion.

We go to these social gathering places because while we are off engaged in some activity, our friends may be doing something else, presumably without us. We need to know what they are doing or we might miss out on something.

In addition to monitoring what others are up to, we feel compelled to broadcast what we ourselves are doing. Today, we do this with tools such as Facebook and Twitter but tomorrow it may be something entirely different.

We now both consume and generate these streams of information somewhat unconsciously (witness the case a few years ago of the pupil brought to the principal’s office for texting, and sat there mindlessly texting while the principal berated him about texting in class).

We NEED to know what our friends are doing and we are no longer content to wait for a postcard or letter (or even an e-mail). We have truly evolved to a society that not only thrives on instant gratification but has brought instant gratification to an entirely new level.

It wasn’t always this way. We were a patient folk. We waited a week or ten days for something to be delivered (now if something we order doesn’t arrive by 10:30 a.m. the next day we are stalking the courier’s truck on the Web).

So back to my unplugged weekend. My partner and I finally had a weekend together and we spent it in Carmel, at the Highlands Inn overlooking Big Sur. It was peaceful, the ocean waves were the biggest source of entertainment, and I had – well in advance of the trip – vowed not to do any work or check e-mail.

That enabled us to spend time together, doing the 17-mile Drive, enjoying the coastal highway, enjoying the local cuisine, and spending time together without the interference of our friends’ activities.

The result: Not only was it a fun weekend but I felt refreshed and reenergized, ready for the challenges of the workweek. And I will do this again, real soon.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex and author of Overload! How Too Much Information Is Hazardous To Your Organization.

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