In New England, the winter lasts longer than I'd like it to, but one of the wettest and coldest Mays on record has finally given way to more seasonable and sunny weather. With that, my thoughts—inevitably—turn toward summer activities such as beaches, barbeques, landscaping, and family vacations.
You'll notice that none of these activities lend themselves, per se, to technology. But there's a reason for that. Although technology can often enhance our lives, too often it distracts from what's really important. In severe cases—and I'm talking to you, gadget geeks—technology becomes a goal, and not an enabler. That's wrong and sad. So, I'd like to present a few general thoughts about the coming summer months and the ways you can make sane uses of technology at a time when you should be thinking about more important things.
Lose the Cell Phone
If you're at a beach, a movie, or any other public place, leave your cell phone home, or at least in the car. Enabling vibrate mode doesn't count. Yes, it's irritating when people around us are blabbing away on cell phones while we’re trying to relax. But it's even more irritating when we're the ones blabbing. If you need to be available to work all the time, you're a tool, not a person. You're not a tool, are you?
Unplug the iPod
Yeah, we get it: You're a living, thriving member of iPod Nation. Congratulations. Now, take off the ear buds and take a listen to the soothing sounds of a nature walk or rolling waves on the beach. You don't have to be bombarded by carefully crafted playlists all day long. Give your ears a rest. They need it.
Bring the Laptop, but Open It Sporadically
For many of us 24/7 Americans, no vacation is complete without broadband wireless and an open laptop. That's pathetic, but I understand that many people can't simply drop work for days at a time. If you have to bring your laptop with you, make sure your head isn't jammed up against the screen all the time. See those little people in the room with you? They're your kids. See if you can remember their names. Then, we'll move on to their favorite ice cream flavors.
Read a Book
OK, if it must be an eBook or even an audio book on an MP3 player, fine, I'll make that concession. However you do it, try to spend a little time getting to know the world around you or losing yourself in a mystery novel. If you don't continue to learn, you stop living. Your spreadsheets and email will be waiting for you in the office when you return.
You say you can't afford that Disney World dream vacation? Can you afford to simply hang out in your yard or visit the park up the street? Yes? Then get outside! Natural light—and let's face it, a bit of physical activity—will do you some good. Toss a ball around. Mow the lawn. Do some yard work. Go swimming. Whatever.
Do More With Less
I've spent a lot of time over the past few months divesting myself of unneeded and unused technology. That means my office is less cluttered and my life is simpler. If you haven't picked up a particular device, booted up a PC, or launched a video game in a few months, maybe it's time to get rid of it. Heck, you could always donate old technology to family or friends, or even sell your stash on eBay. Just don't do it while it's nice outside.
My plan for this summer is the same as last year: We're going to spend afternoons and early evenings at the beach every day we can, cook out a lot, and go on a few small trips with the kids. Not everyone lives near a beach like I do, of course, or has the same schedule. But whatever you do, involve family and friends and leave technology out of it. Technology will always be there. But summer doesn't last forever.