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Denise Balkissoon (Kevin Gonsalves)

Denise Balkissoon

(Kevin Gonsalves)

DENISE BALKISSOON

WiFi in the wilderness: How ‘work creep’ wrecks relaxation Add to ...

Denise Balkissoon is a Toronto writer and the co-editor of the blog The Ethnic Aisle. She is on Twitter @balkissoon.

I know it’s a losing battle, but I’m against WiFi in the wilderness. When Parks Canada announced plans to make wireless internet available in up to 150 national parks over the next three years, I was bummed out. I’m not terribly outdoorsy – I only like camping when the sun is stupidly hot and the kybo isn’t too gross – and most days I consider social media an informative good time. But just once in a while, I’d like to be thrilled by the all-encompassing serenity of drifting over a majestic lake using only the power of my own puny biceps. The instant I upload a shot of a mother moose and her calf, I’ll be checking my e-mail, setting up meetings, and spoiling the mood.

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It’s just another case of “work creep,” when the technology that was supposed to make life easier ends up chaining us tighter to ceaseless productivity. The creep works in the opposite direction, too: We’re being inflicted with “gamification,” in which they try to make learning phonics or working in a call centre more “fun” by assigning rewards and rivalries (good luck with that). As a result, lately I always feel as if I’m neither relaxing nor producing terribly effectively, just going about everything half-assed. I work when I play, and play when I work, and rather than ending up more fulfilled overall, I’m just more frazzled.

Flexible work hours are awesome when they allow parents to leave the office to coach their kids’ soccer games, as I’ve heard from more than one coach-slash-parent. Mobility rules, and one of the pleasures of being self-employed is the freedom to kick back on a patio on a random afternoon, trusting my Android to alert me of breaking work emergencies. At some point, though, porous boundaries feel sloppy. I’ve chimed in on conference calls while shaking a rattle for my baby, and appeared on a radio panel while on the road, en route to a night of cocktails. Recently, a friend asked for recommendations for her tropical vacation, then rejected the low-key, bohemian huts on a Mexican surf beach I suggested because the lack of Internet access would keep her from meeting her deadlines while gazing at the ocean. Not only were we ruining our good times, somehow I doubt either of us produced our best work.

I think it’s time to commit to giving work my intellectual best, but also playing – or simply idling – to my full potential. The problem that remains is willpower: Resisting the dopamine drip of Facebook “likes” when there are serious tasks to complete, and resisting the fear that I’ll end up penniless, with zero Twitter followers, when I choose to neglect my e-mail.

Policing all these boundaries becomes another exhausting task: turning on and off the various pinging alerts, and programming the Internet blockers meant to help me focus. This brings me back to wireless in national parks, which I’m still against. When you replay my Instagram video of a great jump into the lake, know that I sent in a new draft of this article right beforehand, all the while wishing that if I drifted away in a canoe, I could leave it all behind.

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