Please Stand By

Greetings from Chicago O’Hare, and my second time EVER being here not as a business traveler. Bonus points for the food court between K and G gates.

It’s 6:30 in the morning, and we left Seattle at midnight local time “last night”; ergo, we are running on about three hours’ sleep. The reality of flying to a non-major city (hello, Jacksonville) is you either spend your entire day, or your entire night, flying, because you’re going to be stopping over someplace that is not quite but almost entirely out of any reasonable travel path between your points A and B. In this case to maximize our time with family and fun, we are spending the entire night. It’s not completely awful.

If you think about it, one of the most common ways to placate the boredom, frustration, and general weariness associated with modern travel, is your electronic leash. It may be a laptop; it may be an iPhone or a Crackberry. It used to be a book, but books are losing this race. I am sitting at our gate and follow me around the room: teenager across from me on iPhone. His Dad on iPhone. Behind him, lady with full back and arm tattoos (thanks to her tank top) pulling her cell phone out of her bag. Business lady on an iPad. Businessman on a Blackberry. Other businessman eating, iPhone, iPhone while eating, iPad, something-not-quite-an-iPad but not a Kindle, either.

Our connectivity gives us the opportunity to not connect with others. Anyone stuck in an elevator with (shudder) other humans will note two things: 1. The propensity for an elevator full of strangers to be, in fact, an elevator full of strangers looking at their smartphones, and 2. That the people in the elevator, in the absence of interpersonal communication thread active as they entered the elevator, will space themselves out as far apart from each other as possible. (E.g., if there’s one person in the elevator they’re dead center or in the corner. If there are two, you have upper corner and rear opposite corner. Three are usually one in front middle, two in the rear corners. Four = all four corners. Five = all four corners plus one in middle. And so on.) If ever you’re bored and don’t mind messing with other people’s personal space (and yours), deliberately defy this mechanism.

Yours truly is on her laptop, as it is my electronic babysitter as we wait at the gate for a couple of hours. This is wholly unremarkable with the exception that I know, coming up, I will have a day without connectivity.

I tried, the other night, to trace back how long I’ve had some form of connectivity (to the internet, I suppose), and as best as I can figure that started when I moved back up to Washington and started working for Premera. I think we’re looking at Spring 2001. But the connectivity wasn’t all-encompassing, all-binding until I started working for Expedia, 3 years later. I’ve had a blog since 2005 (not this one), “smartphone” of some sort since 2006, a Twitter account since 2007.

Nine years at Expedia trained me to expect emails 24/7 (this is the boon to working for an international company and having international internal customers). Moving  to Sur La Table has meant a dearth of weekend email. After about 6pm on a Friday it slows to a halt, and doesn’t kick up again (apart from automatic job notifications) until Monday morning. Twice now I have sent myself a test email to my work account to verify that it’s still working.

My addiction to this connectivity is starting to get noticed, and, while normally the recipient of a shaking head or an arched eyebrow, has spawned a bet by Grog the Luddite (Grog works with me, sits in what is referred to the “Man Cave Annex”, and does not understand addiction to connectivity. For “fun”, Grog went to Montana to go do crazy physical acts – like carrying other grown men for ½ mile – in high heat). Grog has declared that for a full 24 hour period, I am not to have any connectivity. To test myself. Like an alcoholic preparing for a day without booze I’m already nervous and wondering what my coping mechanisms will be. It will help that the day selected is a day we’re at the Magic Kingdom all day, right? Well no, because then I don’t get to do my Foursquare check-ins. And what about using Yelp reviews to pick the better eating options? And what if something happens at work?

Because that’s the real crux: what if something happens at work, and they need me, and I’m not available? That’s bad enough. What if something happens at work, and they don’t need me – or discover I’m not needed? Ridiculous, yes, but when you love your job that’s the irrational fear that comes with it.

So Friday it is. From Thursday night whenever I hit the rack, to the following Saturday morning when I awake, I will be totally, and completely, offline. The phone will be on to receive calls, but all email accounts will be turned off, cellular data will be turned off, and my phone will just…be a phone. By way of publishing this now, I am that alcoholic putting in place an integrity check: I’ve SAID I’m going to do it, now I have to do it.

I honestly don’t know what my reaction will be. I wonder if I’ll be irritated by the lack of convenience – or if like a mosquito bite I ignore it long enough I simply forget it? I will be sure to blog all about it… on Saturday.

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