21 May 2010

A Breather


It's been a crazy few weeks with school ending, the Faculty Collaborative for the last three weeks, and catching up after a vacation. A vacation that was much needed but also eye opening. Let me explain.

My best friend got married last week in Miami. I went down for a full eight days to celebrate with her, soak up some sun, and relax. I was wound pretty tight before I left, as most of us are at the end of the semester. So, the chance to get away was most welcome. And I made it clear that I was getting away. For the first time in a long time, I set my Out-of-Office to this:

And I held to it. I could have logged on to a number of computers while I was away, but I didn't. For eight days, I was away from the office, from Facebook, from Hotmail, from the NYTimes. In truth, it felt like I was away from it all. When we got home, Jon said that he can't remember the last time that I was so relaxed. When I moved at such a steady pace. And I know that being away from my computer was a big, big part of that.

So, that was pretty eye-opening.

But that's not what I want to get at. Let me add this part into the equation:

I sport a pretty simple phone. Jon and I have iPhones on our wishlist for the summer but until our contract with Verizon expires and we get the money together, I'm pretty low tech when it comes to my phone. And there have been many times where that frustrates me. But on this trip, I felt blessed to be so low tech. I couldn't believe how many of my close friends who said they were on a full vacation as well couldn't separate from their phones. First thing in the morning, in the middle of beach time, during dinner.

I am not saying this to sound soap boxy. I am saying it because it made me stop and think. Because I started to wonder and worry whether adding a smartphone to my life was such a good idea after all. As I've mentioned before, I am not always the best at controlling my use of technology. But on this trip, I wanted to more than ever. I wanted to step away. And part of the reason I was able to do that was because I work in academia. I don't run a company, I don't have "clients" or "patients", I don't check stocks. I help students at a library. And I was never more glad of that than when I was able to close my eyes and listen to the sound of the ocean rather than looking at a screen or moving around the beach for a signal.

But it's more than that. I changed the level of expectation for my connectivity, for myself and for those that try to connect with me. I made it clear from the get-go that I was not checking in let alone responding. And I imagine that did something for those that thought to be in touch with me. But it also did something for me. It changed my own expectations of my time, my energy, my anxiety.

And that was the real eye opener. That the expectations we set of our use of information is incredibly important when we are seeking information. But also when we are trying to evade it. And that it takes evading. I had to talk myself out of following the crowd and checking in. I had to remind myself that all I really needed was this time away. I think I had devalued that more lately. And I think that is dangerous. I love my job. I love my friends. I love technology. I love connecting. But it felt incredibly rejuvenating to take a breather from it all and connect back with myself.

As I said, I know that I have some bad habits when it comes to how I use technology. And I am in the market for techniques to harnessing it, controlling it. If you have some, or if you have had a similar or different experience unplugging, I'd love to hear it!