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Disconnect online to reconnect in life

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With technology making it easier to connect with one another through social media, the general impression is that we are all coming closer together. However, as Nigel Malone heads off on his first holiday in four years, he considers whether perhaps the reverse is happening — that our increased social networking capabilities make it harder to leave work behind.

There’s an old song from the 1970s by Harry Chapin called “Cat’s in the Cradle” that tells the story of a father who misses many of the best moments of his growing son’s life, because he’s too busy working.

My child arrived just the other day
He came to the world in the usual way
But there were planes to catch and bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away
And he was talkin’ ‘fore I knew it, and as he grew
He’d say “I’m gonna be like you dad
You know I’m gonna be like you”

Of course no such thing would happen with today’s technology and social networks. Their advertising and spin tells us we can be always be ‘connected’ to the people that matter in our lives. But should we chat to our children on the iPhone, or eye-to-eye? Is Facebook as good as a family get-together? What is the difference between old-school human interaction versus today’s arms-length controlled, composed, hit-and-run, keypad conversations?

It’s all just part of a bigger trend coined by the Future Laboratory and LS:NGlobal as ‘Bleisure’ – the blurring of the line between business and leisure. It’s off the back of a new generation of workers that have developed the ability to work on a spreadsheet, chat on Facebook, Skype friends and monitor emails, all at the same time. They have trained both sides of their brain to work in unison and use gadgets like they are an extension of their body. For these individuals, and you’re likely to be one of them, there is no division between work and play — they are just permanently ‘on’.

“When I see my staff on Facebook, I no longer think they are skiving,” says Martin Raymond, editor-in-chief of LS:NGlobal. “Today, they could just as easily be working, sending out press information, researching a contact or arranging a meeting.”

So I ponder this as I head off on my first holiday in four years, with the sole objective to reconnect with myself and my wife. Will my room have wireless internet access? Heaven forbid I would have to sit at an internet booth in reception all night, to finish off this article that I had secretly scheduled in while my wife sleeps.

Is the fact that I know I can check my business emails on the beach on my 3G Smartphone the only reason I felt safe enough to leave the office and take a holiday in the first place? It struck me that the more we think technology is helping us stay ‘connected’ with family and friends, the more we are in fact disconnecting. Nothing really has changed since Harry Chapin’s day.

I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind”
He said, “I’d love to, Dad, if I can find the time
You see my new job’s a hassle and kids have the flu
But it’s sure nice talking to you, Dad
It’s been sure nice talking to you”
And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me
He’d grown up just like me
My boy was just like me

So it’s morning now on the first day of my holiday. My wife is still sleeping and the article is almost complete. I reflect again on the thinking of LS:NGlobal. Perhaps in a world filled with WiFi ‘hotspots’, the tide will ultimately turn, we will correct our business/leisure balance and start to seek out ‘coldspots’ — places purposely designed or protected against ‘connection’ via technology. I know that’s what I’ll be looking for on the rest of my holiday.

Nigel Malone is a freelance brand strategist and writer, with particular expertise in the fields of tourism, finance, technology, sustainability and social change. Find out more at www.icycalm.biz

Photo: Rocketvox

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