Plugging In While Plugging Out

Arnhem

If there is a fork in the road, take it.

A recent holiday left me in a quandary.  The concept of my trip was simple: fly to Stuttgart, take European Delivery of a Mercedes-Benz E350 BlueTec diesel-powered sedan, and drive it in a northerly direction to the Nordsee (North Sea).

But should I unplug?  Or should I spend a week of my time in Germany and the Netherlands plugged in to the hilt?  Or, perhaps this trip was a chance to attempt to actually strike a balance and not veer toward either extreme.  As much as possible, I wanted to explore places I had never visited before without technology-enabled distractions.

Since a good part of my workday is spent in front of a computer of some kind, should I not completely unplug from all that?  After careful consideration, I decided that this would be akin to throwing away the eBaby with the bathwater.  After all, travelers of an earlier age would have taken countless books, guides, maps, and brochures with them.  I, on the other hand, was traveling light.  I had my iPad tablet and even brought along a portable Wi-Fi hotspot to ensure coverage wherever I may be.  The challenge would be to not let that connectivity pull me into excessive working or mindless information consumption.

In the past several years, as I became more and more cognizant of the effects of Information Overload, I have found myself better able to separate work from the rest of my life and not fret, for example, about how much e-mail might be accumulating while I am doing something else.

As a result, I had little concern about checking e-mail or conferring with colleagues.  Instead, I decided to use the ubiquitous online access to enhance the trip experience, and prove to myself that it was possible to consume information in moderation and not let it distract me from the sights and sounds of my journey.

The first leg of the drive, from Stuttgartto Maastricht, took us past Karlsruhe, Speyer, Mannheim, Koblenz, and Aachen, among other cities, and it was fun to look up information about the places we were passing.  Checking the weather was another activity best done online because the weather was constantly changing (to say the least) and, in the end we were very lucky with far less rain than had been forecast.

There were countless decisions, such as where to eat and what to see and do in various towns along the way.  Having the Internet at hand made it far easier to plan the day and make well-informed itinerary changes on the fly.

While I am a recovering news junkie, there were several major events unfolding in the world during the trip (riots in London, downgrading of the U.S. debt rating, just to name two) and I wanted to at least have a semblance of reassurance that the world-at-large was still out there.  A combination of a quick glance at the Wall Street Journal and New York Times iPad apps plus the “Tagesschau in 100 Sekunden” (a 100-second recap of top news by Germany’s leading television news program) gave me all the news I needed.

In addition, while I didn’t want to overload anyone with too many details of my trip, I did want to share a few choice photos with friends and family and I used a combination of e-mail and Facebook to do so.

Admittedly, there were a few work-related phone calls and e-mail messages that I did have to attend to but those were few and far between and didn’t leave me craving for more of the same.  I was able to do what I had to and then return to ignoring work, e-mail, and the Web – and focus on my primary objective, namely discovering new places and things to do and see.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex and author of Overload! How Too Much Information Is Hazardous To Your Organization.

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