The following is my complete, unedited column that will run in this Sunday’s Knoxville News Sentinel. I ran so long that much of it had to be cut.
Photo taken on Atlantic Beach, NC. Property of Erin Chapin.
Recently, I had ten days off in a row. Let me just repeat that — ten days off in a row. (Pause for effect.)
It’s not like I’ve never had that much time off at once or that I am unused to time off. Just the week before, I had a three day weekend and went to a cabin near Rogersville with some friends and our families. It was exhilarating.
The difference this time was that we were going as a family to a mutually agreed upon destination and we had no pressure to do anything but enjoy ourselves. Normally, we take time off work and do day trips to the zoo or the mountains with the kids. That’s great, but not really a “recharge your batteries and unplug from your daily life” type of vacation.
Notice that analogy. It is, in itself, a clue to the problem at hand. It implies that we are machines puttering from one task to the next with a constant tether to something we think of as a nuisance yet willingly practice.
We brag about our ability to multitask when, in reality, there are studies showing that no such thing exists. According to an article from Psychology Today, there is serial tasking (switching between tasks rapidly) and, a phenomenon writer and consultant Linda Stone coined, “continuous partial attention” — a desire to be connected at all times so as not to miss anything. I read that and thought, “This is what I do every day.”
Before you think, “The pressure’s finally gotten to her.” I am not about to give up my smartphone and laptop or cancel my internet. There is no move to Montana in my future.
During my vacation, I never made a conscious decision to remove myself from the hive. There was no Chapin family discussion about laying our smartphones to the side. It just happened naturally that as we unplugged from the chaotic digital world, we plugged in to our family. And, boy, was it sweet.
When I told my boss, Jack Lail, about my topic for today’s column, he laughed and said, “You didn’t unplug! You were posting pictures (to Facebook).” True. I also used TripAdvisor to find area attractions to visit when the weather wasn’t optimal for sitting on the beach or swimming in the pool. Urbanspoon helped us find a place to eat on a couple of occasions. On the way home, I downloaded Waze to alert us to any traffic jams or police officers along our route (someone in the family has a heavy foot from time to time). Smartphones are handy things, but there can be a dark side to the convenience they offer.
We don’t realize with the multitudes of emails, texts, phone calls and social media posts how terrible we’ve gotten at communicating with each other until we are made to do it face to face. My mother can tie up the phone for hours talking to her sisters. My aunt is one of the last great letter writers. If you receive an email from her, expect to spend time with it as it is no quick note. Our family congregates in kitchens and back porches everywhere we go and talk for hours. But sometimes there are days I come home and each family member is on some kind of electronic device in different rooms of the house.
The type of constant communication that we have with people is hampering our ability to form real and lasting relationships. My husband has had to remind me to use the word “please” with our children lately because I am so used to typing in declarative statements in IMs, texts and emails that it has fallen out of use in my regular communication.
So, my advice to all of you (should this column have a spark of familiarity in it at all) would be: