People talk about powering off in order to have a sane and serene summer holiday. I've got news for you: There is a lot of digital hypocrisy out there. Fact is, we don't want to unplug and we will go to some lengths to ensure we don't have to.
Rental cottages without Internet languish on the market, while connected ones were booked last fall. Bed-and-breakfast getaways are now hyped as having "stunning views and speedy Internet access...."
These days, loading up the car for the family vacation includes carefully counting various devices so you won't leave one behind almost as much as it includes counting kids' heads. "You got your laptop? What about the USB port? Are we bringing both e-readers?"
Recently, when our close friends came to visit us for the weekend, they arrived with seven digital devices between them - two laptops, a tablet, two smart phones, an e-book reader and a camera.
Each device had its own nifty accessories - chargers, external hard drives, headphones - and its own demands. This one needed to be recharged right away, that one had a cool yellow magnetic cover that we oohed over. At one point I looked at my glass-topped coffee table - I am proud of the few small objets d'art carefully arrayed on it - and it looked as if a temporary call centre had been set up.
And just as we two couples had blended our four grown children into one happy and noisy gang, busy with outdoor games so we could drink copious amounts of wine and kick back, we concentrated on getting our devices to play well with each other - trading pictures from the last time we were together, searching online for a good brunch place, coming up with a cottage date on our smart-phone calendars, downloading each other's music, all the while carrying on the usual great conversation.
Did this hinder the good times? Lower the tone and quality of discussion? Not really. The last time we had all been together I had been slightly irritated by the chirps coming from my friend's TweetDeck - demented birds in a garden of hell. But on this visit she muted it. And besides she offered to help me get the best out of Twitter.
It still drives me nuts when anyone around me - most particularly my husband - can't take his eyes off his phone, as if the Oracle at Delphi is just about to report in. (I thought in our marriage I was the oracle.)
You can agree with author Douglas Coupland, who mournfully wrote, "you can have information or you can have a life. But you can't have both." Or you can shrug and accept it as part of the mise en scène. All four of us are self-employed so there is good reason to stay connected: An hour a day of answering e-mails and dealing with business can help us afford a vacation in the first place.
Technology has changed everything from the way we document our lives - we are overly archived, to say the least - to our expectations of privacy (next to none), to our work and vacation patterns to our social and even literary mores.
Novelist Ann Patchett, touting her new bestseller State of Wonder, amusingly reflected to the CBC's Shelagh Rogers how difficult it was for a novel even to be written in the age of the cellphone. If the novel is all about missed connections, and lost opportunities, she said, how can you set it realistically in an age in which you can be trooping through the Amazon (where her novel is set) and get a call from your broker?
I look forward to more novels that bring this world alive, that portray exactly what it feels like to work and have relationships in this hyper-wired world. Media maven Tina Brown, new editor in chief of Newsweek (old media) and founder of The Daily Beast (online aggregate new media) told Vogue magazine that she wanted to write a comedy of manners called Reply All. Damn! I wish I could download that novel right now.
In Gary Shteyngart's brilliant dystopia Super Sad True Love Story, which cleverly sets the old - diary entries of a man who still naively believes in books - against the new - online messaging of a young woman who thinks even talking is old school (to her, it's called "verballing"), American society is in disarray and decline. Everyone is required to wear an "appo" around their necks, an external digital device that broadcasts everything from their credit rating to their sexual hotness. Scary, if that's where we're headed.
In the meantime, Research in Motion, desperate to get back in the game, has announced a 2012 "renaissance" that will see it introduce a multitude of new smart phones. A TV ad from one wireless network says in the near future every human being will have to manage seven devices. And some 80 year olds, who once wrung their hands when they thought they would be left out of the digital revolution because they couldn't understand it, are now proudly sharing pictures of their grandchildren online.
We had a wonderful weekend with our friends - we sailed, we walked, we ate, we drank, we talked and laughed about all the things that matter to us: our children, politics, life, our health.
I sadly watched them pack up - they nearly forgot one hard drive, but just in time remembered it was upstairs.
Then off they went, leaving us to our own devices.
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