• 07/17/2012
    11:45 AM
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Can You Take A Vacation From Tech?

Try as you might, social and mobile make it tough to get away from it all. But that's not all bad.
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Ah, vacation. A time to chill out, sit back, relax and do ... everything you do when you are sitting in your office. What I learned on my vacation--the first one I've taken away in many years--is that social and mobile have made it pretty tough to get away from it all.

Last week, for the first time since I was a kid, I went away on vacation for a full week. My family and I have done long-weekend trips and days here and there, and for the past couple of years we've done stay-cations. I'm not saying this to make anyone feel bad for me. I'm part homebody, part control freak, part workaholic, and part attention-deficient--all of which add up to a person who does better being away from home in short spurts. But the sun, surf, and a beach house unexpectedly made available for a week's rental were too attractive to pass up. I packed up the usual seaside gear, but also threw in my iPhone, iPad, and laptop with associated adapters.

My family and I had a wonderful time, and along the way I learned some interesting things about mobile, social, and the work/life balance.

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First, you can't get away from it all--not unless you try really hard.

I had been told by the rental manager of the house that we stayed at that there was Internet access--kind of. You had to sit close enough to the cable going to the TV in order to plug in, but it was there. Turns out I couldn't get at the cable easily, and I didn't want to be responsible for the entire neighborhood losing access, so I resigned myself to a week without work. Sigh. But then I had a vague memory of hearing that the iPad can be used as a hotspot. I easily found the setting in, duh, iPad Settings. Voila--not only could I access the Internet from my laptop, but so, too, could my daughters from theirs.

I tried to keep work to a minimum, but I wrote a couple of stories, conducted a couple of interviews, and did a little research. I even answered some emails and read part of Gone Girl (great book!) using my iPhone during a lull on a whale watch.

None of this is that new, I know, but I was struck by how easy everything was. I'm old enough to have gotten the proverbial cup of coffee while waiting for a dial-up connection and to have faxed corrections handwritten on hard copy to impatient copy editors. So you'll have to excuse me if I still get excited about technology that makes life so much easier than it was before.

I feel the same way about social networking. Keeping one of the first social safety rules in mind, I did not publicly state on Facebook or Twitter that I was going on vacation. (I couldn't resist posting two whale photos while on the watch, but I kept my update on the down-low.) Through private messaging, however, I kept in touch with my niece, who was watching our house and caring for our cats. I also made prodigious use of social to find the best ice cream, fried clams, lobster, and fudge within a reasonable distance from where we were staying. By "liking" said places on Facebook, we got some dandy discounts to boot. (And an app came in handy for calculating how much exercise it would take to burn off the ice cream, fried clams, lobster, and fudge when I got back to reality.) I also kept up on tech and other news via Facebook and Twitter, and put out a call for sources for a long-term feature I am working on.

Indeed, while writing this column, I noticed (I'm easily distracted--what can I say) that former colleague and current senior VP of strategy John Taschek updated his Facebook status with a link to a new Salesforce Rypple series called The Future of Work, which will examine how social technologies are changing the way we work. Put short and simple: A lot.

My vacation proved to me what I've been writing and reading about for a couple of years now: The lines between work and play, between private and professional, are blurred to the point of being erased. That can be really good or really bad, depending on how you look at it. But I think it can be somewhere in the middle--really useful and effective, but requiring a lot more attention to maintaining the work-life balance.

Have mobile and social made it almost impossible to disconnect? Do we need to try harder to leave it all behind, or is this just the way of the world now? Please comment below or write me at

Follow Deb Donston-Miller on Twitter at @debdonston.


re: Can You Take A Vacation From Tech?

I also recently went on a vacation out of the country, and you are absolutely correct it is very hard to stay away while you are away. I was actually kind of happy to find out that the internet connection was not the greatest where I was staying, and I couldnGt use my phone as hot spot it too had limited service. I was able to read some articles and check my FB page, I made it a point to not make any comments while I was away. It was very difficult to stay away, partly due to having my laptop on my lap is me relaxing, but there were plenty of outdoor activities to keep busy and stay out of the room.
I would love to read that Salesforce Rypple and see exactly what they came up with. I would be curious how many others have tried to go on vacation only to find out their idea of a vacation and relaxing is interacting with their social networks?

Paul Sprague
InformationWeek Contributor

re: Can You Take A Vacation From Tech?

That's a good point, Paul, about what people find relaxing. Getting away from it all means different things to different people.

Deb Donston-Miller
Contributing Editor, The BrainYard

re: Can You Take A Vacation From Tech?

Excellent question, Deb. My kids used to make me promise "No computer" whenever we went on vacation. Now, it's almost impossible. You don't even have to actually be on a computer to surf, tweet, or send email. Maybe soon we'll be doing all this on our watches.

Technology is changing the way we work and live, so they're becoming one and the same thing. I'm still trying to make up my mind if this is good or bad. What do you think?

Alexis Rodrigo
Noodle Intranet Software

re: Can You Take A Vacation From Tech?

When I think of the flexibility we have now, vs. being chained to a desk/conference table/etc., I think it's a good thing.

Deb Donston-Miller
Contributing Editor, The BrainYard

re: Can You Take A Vacation From Tech?

Social networking as been an aspect of today's technology that is embraced by almost everyone. People are constantly uploading photos, statuses and check-ins that it can be hard to get away from at times. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but I feel that constantly using our gadgets for social media can be quite distracting at times. People can even work remotely while on vacation, which many many often do. Working in a large equipment leasing company, technology is something that cannot be completely avoided. I believe that technology and social networking is a great thing in our time, as long as they don't interfere with what you are trying to do and are more of a help than harm.