I had the chance to camp for the last two weeks at a very large jamboree on the East Coast. While it was nice to disconnect for a while, I experienced some unexpected angst about being out of the digital loop. To be clear, the camp was well connected with wi-fi but I chose to concentrate on camping as opposed to being distracted with the normal stream of correspondence and news. It got me thinking about how hard it is to break out of the “always connected, always on” world. Is it good to leave it behind once in awhile and focus on the process of living, or is the angst that I experienced normal?
With the advent of smart phones and other portable computing devices, we are now connected 24/7. No longer do we turn off our computer and go home for the day or turn off our computers and go to sleep at night. Our computers are on all the time and we are on all the time. It is common to see people walking down the street glued to a small screen as opposed to being aware of and enjoying their physical surroundings. On this same trip, I was in a beautiful gothic cathedral and witnessed people engaged with their devices rather than enjoying their magnificent surroundings. Why even go out if you are more present in the digital world than you are in the physical world?
In a 2011 article in Family Circle, Christina Tynan-Wood discussed the balance between always being connected and being present. In the article, Tynan-Wood describes a recent family vacation to a remote cabin. When they arrived, they discovered that there was no cell signal. Panic set in. She states: “The uncomfortable feeling that we were missing out on something important overtook our intentions to enjoy downtime together.” I believe that more and more we tie ourselves to our network and feel the satisfaction of being needed in that network. In doing so, however, I wonder if we are missing out on the sheer joy of being present in the physical world?
I am trying to strike a balance between being connected in the digital world and being present in the physical world. In a May 2013 article, social strategist Amber Naslund suggests that finding that balance is a personal choice for each individual. The author states: “…the way I use my phone or my computer or my iPad is my own, and when I’m the only one affected, doing so doesn’t make me less present, it just makes me present in a different way, on different terms, in a different context. It’s every bit as real to me.” Maybe the secret is to focus on one task and one conversation at a time.
Is being connected 24/7 the new norm? Can you be connected and present at the same time? Have you found the perfect balance for yourself? Do you ever experience angst about not being connected enough or not being present enough? Let me know your thoughts.
Kelly Brown is an IT professional, adjunct faculty for the University of Oregon, and academic director of the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT topics that keep him up at night.