Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Vacation Challenge to Technology Addiction

John N. Gardner

I confess: nothing makes me realize more acutely how addicted I am to my professional life than trying to go on vacation and simultaneously give up checking my e-mail. No wonder Americans manifest higher levels of stress and shorter life spans than many other developed countries. We really don’t know how to “vacate” and we remain tethered electronically almost no matter where we go on vacation.
I just attempted a work week’s vacation at the Outer Banks in North Carolina. I was in a beautiful, relaxing place. I had the best company/companion in the world, my wife, Betsy Barefoot, a woman who is always fun, relaxing to be with, stimulating in her observations and conversation. Shouldn’t all this have been enough? How much better could it have been?
There were lots of other upper middle class tourists around and I noted as they sat and walked on the beach they were constantly interacting with and focused on a small gadget in their hand.  This week I didn’t get a full week to attempt to practice electronic vacation discipline and abstinence because my wife and I were subjected to a mandatory evacuation notice thanks to Hurricane Irene. But even before she came, I was failing vacation miserably—in that even though I tried to disconnect, I backslid and went on-line. Why do we do this?
  • we see other people doing this
  • an exaggerated sense of importance—my colleagues back home at the office really can’t do without me
  • a fear that I will miss something or someone important
  • people expect to hear from me immediately
  • if I am not available so and so will think that I am being derelict in my duties
  • I really do need to know constantly that I am needed, missed, pursued by others
  • if I don’t keep up now I will be overwhelmed later particularly when I get “back” (thanks to the internet there is no longer a “back”)
  • my boss or bosses do this and they normatize what is expected of me
  • this is just the culture of my organization
  • this is just the culture
  • this is just a habit
  • this is a form of addiction
  • this prevents me from thinking about other things/people that I would prefer not to deal with—by not procrastinating electronically, it allows me to procrastinate from what matters most in life
  • I am not really in control of this (oh yes, I am; I choose to do this)
  • this has become my most constant source of stimulation (John, that’s really a shame)
  • I really do love my work and thoughts about it—really my thoughts are my work—more than vacation—work thinking is just much more fun, rewarding, stimulating, reaffirming
  • this is just one more indicator of the helpless grip the Protestant Ethic’s 21st century manifestation has on my consciousness
You know, this is like the excuses I hear from people about why they don’t: stop smoking, or take more vacation, or eat less, or exercise more—just all excuses that I should discount. We must like it this way or we would behave differently. For most people, nobody is making us do this on vacation. I think we need to reflect more on why we do this; what good does it really do us? Are we really the better for it.
I am now going “back” to work for a week or so and then my wife and I are going to take our annual fall vacation to an inn  in Vermont which is so isolated that the electronic communication is pretty primitive. And that’s why I love to go there. I am going to try again to go cold turkey. I have done other difficult things in life. I have exerted my will and control. I can do this too. But will I?


  1. John,
    I too have trouble "unplugging." For my upcoming vacation I am hoping to take a lesson from a colleague/researcher. I am, at least, inspired by her dedication, though I doubt I will be able to go as cold turkey as this: http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2010/12/08/i-am-offline-on-email-sabbatical-from-december-9-january-12.html

  2. The wired generation will continue this trend. They seem to not be able to go unplugged or disconnect from the cloud apps and their social media accounts. I make sure I leave them behind when I go trekking.