I managed to get away for a week this summer to a cottage north of Belleville, Ont. I sat on the dock with my dog Sampson, gazed out at the lovely lake, drank coffee or beer depending on the location of the sun, and checked my iPhone repeatedly. Down at the dock I was most likely to get one bar of service over the Rogers network, and with that infrequent bar I could maybe check e-mail.
This is a cottage all but cut off from the online world. Over the course of many annual visits, I’ve tried a number of loaner devices from Bell and Telus, along with whatever Rogers phone I was carrying. The signal meter would occasionally flicker, but making a call or using the data network was impossible.
This year, however, my iPhone showed one glorious bar the day I arrived, and I actually checked e-mail. I even turned on the phone’s Personal Hotspot and tethered my laptop. It worked for about 30 minutes, and then the signal died. After that, I might get a bar once or twice a day for a few minutes. Success, it seemed, varied with the wind.
Between visits from the ghosts of cellular networks, I was relegated to dial-up Internet. Remember that? You don’t, really, even if you’re old enough to have experienced it. Broadband has wiped the reality of 28.8 Kbps from your memory. A link you would click from home or work without a thought takes two minutes to open when your old laptop (the only one in the house that has a phone jack) is talking in beeps and boops to a Sympatico server over a long-distance phone line.
But I was on vacation
If this was supposed to be a vacation, why was I checking e-mail so often? The truth is, most knowledge workers stay glued to the Internet even when away. A 2011 study from Expedia.ca found 62 per cent of employed Canadians regularly or sometimes check e-mail or voicemail while on holidays. A similar 2012 survey from Robert Half Management Resources concluded that 61 per cent of vacationing Canadian CFOs check in with the office once or twice a week.
I checked e-mail because people were expecting content or needed me to make decisions, and because I didn’t want to come home to 2,000 waiting messages.
The awful admission
But there is another reason. I simply enjoy being online, being connected. I get a little uncomfortable when I am offline for a while.
There, I said it.
Not enough working-age people are willing to make the same admission. Instead, they complain they can’t get away, that they’re too busy. They literally sigh with self-pity. It is for these people that Arizona River Runners wrote this recent press release: “There is no better escape from the stresses of everyday life than a Grand Canyon rafting trip on the Colorado River. There are no cell phones or pagers, no e-mails, no traffic...”
That sounds appealing, right? It’s actually just part of the Internet-is-bad message we’re all being sold. The truth is, being that cut off would drive most knowledge workers batty. What if you wanted a list of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, or wanted to know when the CN Tower was built or who starred in the original Cape Fear? What do you do when there’s no Wikipedia?
In that Robert Half survey, 36 per cent of CFOs said they remain completely disconnected during vacation. I think many of them were lying. We stay in touch with the office because it’s better than letting work pile up and because we like to feel needed, and we go online because it’s fun and informative. And it’s time we just ’fessed up and accepted that disconnected vacations are almost entirely a thing of the past.
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