It was around 1995 that I first logged onto AOL and within the first two years, began finding people to chat with in online groups. I found people that lived in Chicago, or that played Scrabble, and occasionally flirted with some flirts that most likely were the original Catfish. I would spend hours talking to these stranger-friends. I hadn’t been all that popular in high school but online, I had a fresh start to meet people that weren’t already in unbreakable cliques.
I went to college, had a busy life filled with theatre, work, studying, new friends and family and didn’t spend much time online. There was so much to learn and so many new people to meet and new experiences to be had and I tried to take advantage of as much as I could.
Then came Facebook, and I was back to spending much more time online. In 2008 I joined Twitter and while I didn’t delve in nearly as much as I do currently, I was spending a considerably more time online.
My favorite times are when I go to a city and leave feeling like I know everyone there. Chicago, although it’s my hometown, has always felt like that to me – welcoming and friendly and much smaller than it appears. With all the people I’ve been able to meet in over 20 years online, when I travel, I am able to recapture that feeling as I meet my online friends offline and the world continues to shrink.
Do I spend so much time online that I neglect my friends and family and offline relationships? I have never had someone come to me for an Internet Intervention. I can put my phone down and focus on people I am with (for the most part) and not feel an overwhelming sense of #FOMO. At the same time, do I ever go a full day without at least one Twitter chat? Actually, I do. Most Fridays I don’t attend any, but I certainly see everyone in my groups with multiple chats on other days. I don’t lose sight of the people that are important to me, my family, my dog…but I also know that I have extremely close friends on social media that are just as dear to me, if not even more so, than some people I spend time with offline. So what is the difference really? Offline, when you want to see friends, you meet them at a restaurant or a coffee shop. Online, you meet them in a chat or a DM or a group. Either way, we are still going where we need to be, to keep up the relationships that are important to us.
On a professional level, I can’t imagine going a day without checking my email. I’m not sure that anyone that runs their own company or works at an executive level in any company truly ever unplugs or “goes off the grid.” To me, that is irresponsible. I believe that the stress of wondering what you might be missing negates any freedom or imagined peace of mind you might be attempting to regain my turning off all electronics for an extended period of time. How many times have you gone on a vacation and come back to more emails than you can possibly answer your first week back? How serene does that make you feel? Exactly.
If I’m a customer and having problems with something or need to reach a company, I’m going to be pretty put off when I receive an out of office reply, more so if it doesn’t offer me an alternate person to reach in the first person’s absence. In an age where transparency and immediacy has become the norm, why would you make your company unavailable to it’s consumers? The very people that make up the sole reason you still have a company?
I’m not suggesting you stay tethered to your laptop and phone 24/7. The beauty of today’s increasing world of remote workers is that your time is taken into consideration. I understand that you, like me, may be working remotely and therefore your time really is your own. Do I still expect replies to my correspondence in a timely manner? Absolutely, and I will offer that to you as well. But I may take an extra hour during the day to walk the dog AND have a leisurely lunch, and might only check my email twice during both of those times.
I tend to believe that if you can only find moments of serenity when you are entirely removed from any and all thoughts of your job, perhaps you are not in the right position. Personally, I can find many other things besides email and social media to distract me, if I’m not truly in the moment, no matter where I am. Similarly, I am also able to find peace when I need to. And that doesn’t mean I take off for my own Walden Pond, ignoring everything around me. Peace for me comes in learning to live in the real world, which is made up as much by people online and off. It means accepting my life as it is and me for who I am, and not seeking a technological black hole to hide in, away from all of you. And the irony? Where to people come first, to tell everyone else about their time “unplugged?” Ah yes. Twitter. Facebook. Text messages. How many times have you seen someone unplug, just to come and immediately ask, “Who missed me?” You know you’re coming back. We know you’re coming back. Is the break one big ego trip?
We live in a digital society. New technology pops up every day. Would it not be better to find the best way to live in the world we um, live in, than to pretend we’re somewhere else? Or not try to escape our current lives and learn to find the balance?