- October 15th, 2007
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My father is made of completely different stuff from me.
A couple of years ago, he started a new job as the HR director for a company, and when he joined them, they gave him a Blackberry. Apparently, all of the executives had them.
After a couple of weeks, he gave it back.
My father is the kind of person who doesn’t like to be available anywhere he goes. He didn’t even have Call Waiting until recently—and I’m pretty sure that he only did that because it came with a package deal. His point was simply that if somebody needed to get in touch with him and he was on the phone, they would call back. Simple. Straightforward.
I, on the other hand, am almost constantly reachable. At work, at home, in the car. I have email and the Internet at my hip. My laptop is wireless and if I really needed to, I could tether it to my cellphone and have a full Internet connection—anywhere there’s a cell signal.
The word tether is rather interesting. Lately I’ve been wondering if that’s not exactly what this constant stream of connectivity is doing just that: tethering. My father has sometimes referred to a cellphone as a leash. Oh, he has one, sure—but he rarely uses it and mostly, it’s just there in case of emergency. When he and my stepmother go away for a weekend, I don’t even think they take it with them, which is annoying if I need to talk to them when they aren’t at home. Sometimes I wonder what the point is, having it and leaving it on the kitchen counter.
And sometimes, I wonder if my dad doesn’t have the right idea.
Most times, I enjoy the universe that’s at my fingertips. If I want to talk to my friend Anna in Germany, the only thing I have to worry about is whether the six-hour time difference between us means that she’s asleep. If I want to bone up on a subject that’s caught my curiosity, a quick glance at Wikipedia can fill me in on everything about it I ever wanted to learn and more. Who was that guy who was in that movie with that other guy? In fifteen seconds, I can tell you.
It’s downright addicting.
And that’s what I worry about. After all, Step One is admitting that you have a problem.
Lately, I’ve been toying with the idea of unplugging. Oh, I couldn’t do it completely—my job pretty much totally prevents me from doing that, given that I sit at a computer all day. But several of my coworkers—not so oddly, they tend to be the older ones who have families—tell me that when they get home they don’t even think about a computer until they get into the office the next day. Me? I get home and the first thing I do after closing the door and perhaps putting down whatever groceries I was carrying is to power up the laptop again. After all, since it doesn’t need to be plugged in all the time, I can have it in the kitchen with me while I’m cooking dinner. But am I missing out on something bigger by not being “out there?”
I mentioned to a friend today that I was thinking about disconnecting for a bit (knowing that he had done the same thing several months back) and he said, “It’s not that hard and it’s honestly pretty fun. Less intarweb, more real life.” And I thought about that for a second and realized that I don’t have much of a real life to speak of. Most of my friends are people that I work with, and sure, we socialize in varying degrees. But since moving to this city more than a year ago, I haven’t really developed a life and circle of friends that were my own. I tend to stay at home a lot and do my own thing, which is fine to an extent, but am I missing out?
I think that truly, the idea of removing myself from what has been a pretty major part of my life since I first went online in the early ’90s is downright terrifying. Back when I started, it was much easier to stay offline: you had to use a phone line to do it, and it cost money while you were online, so there was a limit to what you could do. Also, it was slow as molasses. But these days, the constant-on source of information flowing through the air is as ubiquitous as water, and it’s much more difficult to turn it off.
Is it something to worry about? Maybe, maybe not. But small as it may seem… I think I might have a problem here.