By Scott Baughman
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts once sang, “I hate myself for lovin’ you” about a bad boy, but have you ever felt that way about your smartphone, tablet or other Internet-enabled devices?
In our fast-paced, all-digital world, sometimes we get way more caught up in our love of the technological than maybe we should. A lot of digital ink has been spilled over the right time – and right amount of time – to be spent “unplugged” in the modern world.
I’m writing this installment of Technically Speaking after spending a week of vacation with my two boys and Meda at a wonderful retreat in the Blue Ridge in the North Carolina town of Linville. It has become tradition for us to spend Independence Day up in the mountains for a variety of reasons. Chief among them is that the temperature difference seems to coincide with the increase in altitude. We cherish our week each year in the cooler climes. But another reason that we are glad to go up to Linville is because of the beauty of nature. The mountains are incredible and the ability to just sit and rock on the deck of my father’s mountain home is wonderful.
Any of you with younger children, teens or grandchildren can just imagine how unimpressed the boys are with the serene, natural and rustic wonder of the place. They would rather be hammering away on joypads, keyboards or touchscreens. And Meda and I must make sure to get all of our work-related tasks squared away before we head to the mountains each year for the Fourth or we’ll be forever bugged by calls, emails, texts and messages from co-workers or bosses to get our work done despite being on vacation.
The modern work world is one of blurred lines between being “on the clock” and “off the clock” for purposes of work intruding on personal time. Where do we draw the line between our personal space and our work space when people can ping us day and night on our smartphones? And doesn’t it become even more difficult to tell when those devices seem to be omnipresent?
That brings me to one more reason we look forward to our trip to Linville each year – on the back side of the mountain up there, Internet signal and cell phone service is almost nonexistent. The kids howl with indignity when we tell them there’s not much in the way of WiFi at grandpa’s mountain house. And this year they were even more cut off than ever before as dad has decided to cancel his cable/satellite Internet service up there to save some cash.
At first, we were hesitant about going so far off the grid – at least, off the grid as far as our family is concerned. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that being cut off was probably exactly what the children needed. Mind you, they still had plenty of handheld videogames to play without a need for a connection, but they spent less time watching videos on YouTube and streaming episodes of their favorite shows, etc. They interacted with each other, with us and with their cousin more than they have in a very long time.
Sure, we all know that smartphones and tablets are great inventions. And the Internet itself is a marvel of mankind. But knowing when to spend time with those who are important to you in face-to-face communication can be an invaluable lesson in today’s world. The boys understand more now about how much it can mean to look someone in the eye when you tell them you love them.
I love to use my Instant Messenger to send texts to people. FaceBook and I are good friends and I have several hundred followers on Twitter. But none of those things can mean as much to me as seeing my boys’ faces when they’re watching fireworks light up the sky on the Fourth of July. The gleam in their eye, and the joy on their faces is something that cannot be easily transmitted over wires – or even over the air via wireless service. There is no app that is a substitute for a kiss on the forehead from your son when you tell him you love him and you’re proud of his accomplishments.
As we trundled back down the mountain at the end of that week, our phones began to ping again and the boys began to engage in multiplayer games online. As the outside world began to flood back in through packets of data and bundles of text messages, we could tell we were back online.
But I feel that this year more than ever the kids – and the adults – learned that just because you have to unplug, doesn’t mean you’re not connecting.