21 January 2010

On the Importance of Unplugging


Or, as Phil Baumann would call it, "defraging," and thanks to @EdBennett for the link.

It seems like I end up musing on this topic at least once a year. This go round was motivated by watching a bunch of my colleagues get to the end of the year scrambling with their "use or lose" vacation. And NACHRI has VERY generous carry over policies, so it's not like we can only carry a week. Why is this a good thing? Around here, it definitely does NOT come from the top, as our CEO provides a good model of work-life balance, particularly when it comes to truly vacationing (as opposed to "going on vacation" but taking your Blackberry and laptop).

Studies have demonstrated that being "always on" can produce serious depression and lead to shallow relationships. Technology, particularly social media technology, can eat your life if you let it. It's almost addictive, to the point that Firefox includes add-ons that will control it for you, if you can't for yourself. And it may exacerbate problems like ADD/ADHD.

Constantly checking our email, FB updates, or Twitter stream precludes contemplation, deep conversations, "flow" states, and being in the moment - we're too busy worrying about all the *other* moments we might be missing. And in the meantime, we're missing *our* moments.

I'm not saying dump all technology or social media. I'm just encouraging us all to think about both the benefits and the costs all this convenience brings us. Every person has to decide what the right balance of on/off is for herself. But be honest with yourself - are your online relationships hurting your face-to-face relationships? When was the last time you put away the computer and the smart phone for a week - or even a day? Did you lose any vacation because you "didn't have time" to take it last year? When was the last time you sat in silence and watched something of nature? When was the last time you took a walk without a phone or iPod? When was the last time you read a novel - or an actual print newspaper? When was the last time you went out with your significant other - or best friend - and both of you turned off your cell phones for the evening?

KiKi's encouraging us to think about a Tech Detox, too. Go to her blog to offer your ideas about what that would include for you.


8 comments:

PhilBaumann said...

Very important post, Elizabeth.

I believe this issue may be more complex and subtle than we realize. As the Web infiltrates more and more into our lives, it brings with it an almost un-seen seduction - and by seduction, I mean a a condition where, like travelers among falling flakes of snow, we wind up over-plugged.

I'm by no means a Luddite. But I do think we need to more seriously consider the Web's influence and develop the skills and habits which keep us healthy.

Businesses will need to figure this out too: as more businesses start using Twitter and Facebook and traditional blogging as staples of their communications, they will need to find ways to ensure that employees don't drift.

There's a difference between Connect and Dissociation.

It's easy to get connected. But it's also just as easy to become dissociated. I wonder how many people will transgress past connection into dissociation.

Phil

Elizabeth Weaver Engel, CAE said...

@Phil - thanks for the comment. If you haven't already, I'd definitely follow that "shallow relationships" link, as that article from The Chronicle of Higher Education talks about exactly this issue.

Anonymous said...

This has been on my mind since I heard about a recent study comparing the eyesight of children in the 1970s to that of children in the 2000s. (They found a noticeable change in the shape of the eye, which they were attributing to increased reading on screens.) They were talking about how it could be countered by playing outside, looking at the big, wide, open sky.

I think it would benefit employers if they forced all employees to use a week of vacation, all at once, once a year. At a minimum. And that would include leaving the laptop and Blackberry on their desk as they walk out the door. People take those items on vacation with them because either a) they think they are too important to be disconnected or b) they are too terrified of being disconnected. Do we want either kind of employee? Really?

I like Twitter, FB, and all that. Heck, I do it for a living. But I do wonder when we cross the line into living other peoples' lives, rather than our own.

Kristi Donovan said...

Argh - that last comment was mine. And here's more on that study I referred to: http://bit.ly/7CCp1d

Elizabeth Weaver Engel, CAE said...

@Anon/Kristi - One of the things that results from that always-attached Blackberry is a sense of false urgency. We come to expect an immediate response, regardless of whether or not that's warranted, just because we can. Yes, sometimes I really do need the answer RIGHT NOW. But certainly not always.

Maggie McGary said...

This is something I struggle with on a daily basis, and have for the past 12+ years. It started when I was a stay-home mom with no "IRL" friends so my whole social life took place online. Fast forward to today where I do this stuff for a living. I honestly do try to be balanced about it, but I'm not great at it. The thing I find hardest is that there is a huge blur between using technology for work and using it for recreation. If I take my iPhone to the gym to listen to music, watch a video or read a book on Kindle, it's too easy to "accidentally" check email or Twitter or Facebook.

Blogging also adds to the slippery-slope factor: I blog for fun and because I enjoy it--it's a hobby for me the same way doing pottery or going to dance class is for someone else. Writing is recreational for me--but it also is very close to what I do for work, so the line between I'm doing this because I want to and I'm doing this because I have to is very blurry. And to my husband and kids, me sitting in front of the computer--whether it's blogging or checking work email--looks exactly the same.

When I go on vacation I'm pretty good at unplugging, but this is definitely something I could improve on. Off to check out Kiki's post.... ;)

PhilBaumann said...

@Maggie

You've said very well what I think many people against which are struggling. You're just aware of it :)

I think there's an even wider issue at hand: our relationship with Technology. The Web is like a new life form, a new kind of organism - one whose reach is very far and deep.

This has been an ongoing matter - it's just now that we have Twitter & Facebook & (now) Foursquare - media which are cheap and easy to use and ubiquitous, I think we're seeing it come more to the forefront.

Perhaps 2010 will be the yea that we see more discussion around the topic. Ironically, these discussions will have to take place on Twitter & Facebook & other realtime media. Go figure. :)

Elizabeth Weaver Engel, CAE said...

Just popping in to thank everyone who's been reading and commenting and turning this into a really interesting discussion.