The Tyranny of Technology

I’m on vacation this week. Aileen and I are perched in a nice little cottage just over a dune from a beautiful beach. The cottage is great. It has electricity and all kinds of good amenities, but no phone and no access to the internet. There is a television but it is useful only as a means of playing DVDs and receives no channels. My cell phone only picks up a roaming signal out of the U.S. (which we can see just across the lake) so I’m not about to call anyone. All-in-all it’s a beautiful thing. The only way of getting on the Internet is to drive a few minutes to a nearby town and visit the public library (or, I suppose, drive around looking for a wireless internet conection at a cafe or hotel). Since we’ve been here I’ve spent a maximum of fifteen minutes a day wired in to the world, this in comparison to the usual ten or twelve hours a day when I’m at home. I check my email, make sure my site is alive and well, see how badly the Blue Jays got beaten the day before, and make a brief check of the important news feeds at my Netvibes account. Then I shut down and return to my isolated existence.

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It has been a good experience. I don’t miss the internet nearly as much as I might have thought had I known long in advance that there would be no access here. In fact, I’ve felt a certain freedom here. Some time ago I told Aileen that lately I’ve felt something of a captive to technology. I’ve been unable to get away from the phone, the cell phone, email, the internet and all the other forms of communication. This is a problem inherent, I suppose, when both my job (web design) and my hobby (blogging) depend upon the internet. Much of my communication with friends and family also takes place through the Net. Thus it’s very easy for work to intrude into leisure and leisure to intrude into work. My workdays can quickly become wrapped up in all kinds of person concerns as I respond to emails and blog posts while I should be working. My evenings are rarely quite as relaxing as I’d like as it seems that there is always something popping up, something I need to head online to solve. I told Aileen that I had decided not to check email in the evenings (or not as often at any rate) and that I had to try to separate work from the rest of life, something that isn’t always easy to do when a person works from home as I do. This vacation has forced this upon me and I’ve found that I like it.

Technology is largely a good thing, I’m sure. I’m convinced that part of our mandate for this world includes creating and enjoying new kinds of technology. But while these technological advancements can certainly do a lot to make life easier and better, they also have a way of making life more complicated. They extend our work days and worm their way into our leisure, at least if we allow them to. I’ve found that it is important to create boundaries between work and leisure and the only way of doing this, I think, at least in my case, is to be deliberate about creating space and time where technology does not intrude.

This vacation has shown me that surviving without internet and without being always-available isn’t nearly as difficult as it may seem. It is more a matter of willpower than necessity. I’ve found that I like being away from the internet for a time and that it gives me more time to do things that somehow seem less important but are, in reality, more so.