Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Living UnWired

It seems that no matter where I go and no matter what I'm doing, I'm always in touch with someone else. Between smartphones that can send and receive email and texts pretty much wherever I am, it's hard to not be available.

As humans, we're all social, albeit at different points on a continuum. But sometimes I like to be left alone.

My last column discussed how we can now obtain Internet service on airplanes, once considered the last bastion of Internet isolation. That has now crumbled.

Many campers and backpackers still find that they can obtain a mobile phone signal in the less-populated areas and that you really have to go far afield before your phone signal is non-existent.

But being connected or disconnected is my choice.

Often for my work, I need to stay connected in order to support customers or other needs that arise outside of regular business hours. Other times, I want to be able to communicate with family and friends. All this is good.

But there are times when I really just want to be alone or with a group of others and not have distractions. No computers, no mobile phones, no texting. Just spend time that doesn't include a glowing screen.

I spent this past weekend at Heifer International's Overlook Farm in Massachusetts. While they had some nominal Internet access, I can't say I tried hard to get it to work and spent the bulk of the weekend with the church group with which I came.

I really liked it.

In talking to one of the other group leaders, we discussed how some communities regularly have "technology-free weeks" where they turn off the TVs, TiVos, Wiis, XBOX 360s, mobile phones, computers and more.

Instead, the families go for walks, play baseball, go swimming, read a book, have dinner together, go for a hike, clean up the house, fix stuff, whatever they do that doesn't involve technology.

While our technology allows us to communicate and connect as we never have before, it also distracts us from ways in which we as humans really communicate and connect -- in person.

It's often easy to disconnect when we physically go to a geography where the services that connect us aren't available. Yet, it is our choice whether we wish to use these services when we're in our own homes.

I, for one, will work with my family to have "technology-free" weekends, even if we're just hanging around the house. I'm looking forward to reconnecting with my family and friends in a way that may be unfamiliar to some, yet rewarding to all.

Mark Mathias, a 30-plus year veteran of information technology and a resident of Westport, Connecticut, was named by Computerworld magazine to their inaugural list of “Premier 100 IT Leaders.” This column was originally published in the Westport News on Wednesday 4 May 2011.

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