Is it possible to disconnect?


Are you a more productive person than, say, 10 years ago?

The question comes in a blog post today by Mark Lewis, president of EMC Corporation, who went “off the grid” recently. Apparently he’s plugged in, again:

… is all of this connectivity actually making us more productive, more innovatiove, or even making our lives that much better? Or is Facebook just the “CB Radio” of the decade (the under 40 set might even have to look that one up, or shall I say, “Google it”?). There is no doubt that staying connected with friends is fun and staying connected with work has become almost required in most organizations, but the question remains, are we any more innovative or productive?

I’ve heard about people who disconnect from the connected universe — if only for a week’s vacation — but I’ve never met any of them, especially in the mirror.

Blame the recession, a University of North Carolina professor says. We’re afraid of being left out or left behind:

“Once people know you’re behaving this way, businesses expect you to be at their beck and call, so vacations become hard,” said Gary Marchionini of UNC Chapel Hill’s school of information and library science.

People stay connected to the office while on vacation partly because they’re expected to, but also because they feel guilty and fear a backlash if they don’t, said Marchionini

We don’t even know if it’s possible to disconnect anymore, though’s David Sirota is giving it a try.

Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. It’s that urge to answer your cellphone in the middle of a family dinner, that impulse to check your e-mail before going to bed, knowing your boss expects you to. It’s the urge to text message a business colleague while driving — a problem so prevalent and dangerous that state legislatures are outlawing such behavior. And it’s that reaction you get when telling people you don’t have a Facebook page or a BlackBerry — that disgustedly stunned look as if you said your name is Fred Flintstone. The expectation is that you are — and must be — on the grid at all times.

Technological connectivity is traveling a path previously trampled by human noise.

Utne Reader had a piece a few months ago about the search for places where there is no human sound.

It’s not easy to find silence in the modern world. If a quiet place is one where you can listen for 15 minutes in daylight hours without hearing a human-created sound, there are no quiet places left in Europe. There are none east of the Mississippi River. And in the American West? Maybe 12. One of them is in the temperate rainforest along the Hoh River in Olympic National Park.

Have you tried disconnecting? How’d that work for you? Are you and your spouse on the same page when it comes to “connectivity”? Can you leave work behind and still have a job? Share your stories.

  • Hi Bob.

    On our camping trip to Yellowstone (and later Glacier) at the beginning of June, my friends and I were not only disconnected from the internet and media, in many cases we were out of cell phone signal range.

    We had to “duck into” towns outside of Yellowstone to make cell calls (coordinating plans with my friends’ parents). Before we left, we had made jokes about the possibility of things like the Senate race being decided while we were away.

    My RSS feeder and emails were stuffed when we finally returned to connectivity after nearly 2 weeks without it.

  • Dan

    It is a THRILL to shut the cell phone off as soon as I leave work. It is pure glory and silence. One of THE best places in the world to almost believe there are no humans anywhere is on Lake Vermilion in February standing in the middle of the lake and hearing nothing but the wind. Pure bliss. Disconecting allows oneself to truly find whom they are close to as you and your “friends” have to work mutually hard to stay “connected” with each other, without the facebooks, twitters, cellphones, texting, email, bluetooths, myspace, and dare I say even blogs…..etc.

  • kennedy

    Being connected is about being the first informed, not necessarily the most informed. Being connected is about being involved in conversation, not necessarily adding value to the conversation. Being connected is about knowing the current buzz, not necessarily knowing what is important. Being connected is about being in the loop, not necessarily about being important.

    Knowledge truly is power, and being the last to know carries a certain stigma. While people complain about being connected, I suspect some feel a touch less valuable when they are not connected and things continue anyway.

  • bob

    Knowledge is power only if it’s in regard to something worth knowing. A lot of connectivity is focused on stuff that is of little or no ongoing value or importance. (Unless getting the latest on Lady GaGa is more important/worth knowing than I’m thinking it is.)

    If your boss expects you to be connected at midnight and you aren’t a soldier or a first responder, you’ve got the wrong boss.

    If you have the urge to check calls or e-mails when you’re in the middle of a meal, and there is no pending life or death emergency, you’re an inconsiderate jerk — and may even be in need of an intervention.

    If you’re texting while driving, you’re not just an inconsiderate jerk, but a threat to public safety as well.

    Later this month, my wife and I are heading to a spot in the Black Hills that is off the cellphone grid. We won’t have any anxiety whatsoever about trading the extremely dubious value of constant connectivity for the demonstrated mental health benefits of babbling brooks and the sigh of the breeze through the pine trees.

  • c

    i would agree with both dan and bob.